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India has lost a political colossus: Arun Jaitley on George Fernandes death

Fernandes, who served as defence minister between 1998 and 2004, died Tuesday morning after a prolonged illness

India has lost a political colossus: Arun Jaitley on George Fernandes death

New Delhi: Paying glowing tributes to veteran socialist leader George Fernandes, Union Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said he was a politician with a difference and with his death India has lost a political colossus.

Fernandes, who served as defence minister between 1998 and 2004, died Tuesday morning after a prolonged illness. He was 88. "With the passing away of veteran socialist leader George Fernandes, India has lost a political colossus. George was a politician with a difference. He had the ability to stand alone, take a position, however extreme, and sustain that position. 

"He was a political worker, an extraordinary leader, a powerful trade unionist, a parliamentarian that many would dread to face and above all a dissenter," Jaitley wrote in a Facebook post.

In the post titled 'George Saheb as I knew him', Jaitley said he was one of the most charismatic speakers and the last of the veteran Lohiaites.

Ram Manohar Lohia, the mentor of Fernandes, represented the anti-Nehru, anti-Congress face of Indian politics and gave the famous slogan 'Congress hatao desh bachao'.

"In the post-Dr Lohia era, with the emergence of BJP as the principal pole of Indian politics, many Lohiaites shed their inhibition and started doing political business with the Congress. The Left was not far behind. They called it re-polarisation. One honourable exception was George Fernandes. He was a born Lohiaite and he died as one. His anti-Congress moorings were never compromised," Jaitley said.

Fernandes, who was born to a Christian family in Mangalore, Karnataka, burst into national limelight when as a firebrand trade unionist in Mumbai he organised a Railways strike in 1974 that brought the country to a standstill. Ironically, he became the Railways minister in 1989 under V P Singh's National Front coalition government, comprising mostly Left leaning parties.

Despite being a staunch critic of the RSS, Fernandes joined the BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999, in which he was appointed the defence minister. 

Under his stewardship, India fought the Kargil war in 1999. It was also during his tenure that India conducted nuclear test at Pokhran in 1998.

He was also the industries minister under the Janata Party government after the defeat of Indira Gandhi-led Congress in 1977. 

Soon he was at loggerheads with industrialists and demanded that Coca-Cola and IBM comply with foreign ownership regulations, which forced them to shut their operations and quit India.