New Delhi: Union Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday dubbed George Fernandes as one of the architects of the NDA and revealed that the socialist leader wanted to boycott the 1977 general elections and finally signed the nomination papers after former Prime Minister Morarji Desai intervened.
Jaitley, in a blog, remembered Fernandes as an extraordinary leader, a powerful trade unionist, a Parliamentarian that many would dread to face and above all a dissenter.
“With the passing away of the 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 said.
He said that Fernandes entered Parliament and quickly made a mark as a Parliamentarian, a great speaker in at least seven languages. “A phenomenon very rare in India,” he said.
The senior BJP leader recalled his jail days during the Emergency and said George Fernandes believed in militant opposition to it.
“Many felt that the idea of a militant opposition to the Emergency was misconceived but George was a man with his own mind. He believed that this was the only course. His opposition was shattered and, along with his colleagues, he was arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
Jaitley said in 1977 when Indira Gandhi announced holding of the general elections a meeting of political prisoners took place where everybody except Fernandes favoured contesting the elections.
“George was a dissenter. He wanted to boycott the 1977 elections. He believed that this was going to be a make-believe farcical election through which Indira Gandhi would earn legitimacy and continue her dictatorship and hence the opposition by contesting must not give legitimacy to the elections,” he said.
Jaitley said that George was chosen to contest from Bihar but he declined to sign the nomination papers.
“It finally took Morarji Desai, who came to the Tiz Hazari courts (where George used to come for his trials), with a set of nomination papers, to get George to sign them so that he could contest from the prison. George eventually yielded and signed the papers.”
The Union minister said that Fernandes won the election by a huge margin but later declined to join the Morarji Cabinet.
Jaitley said Fernandes spent the rest of the next decade in opposition championing the issues of the farmers, trade unions and finally Bofors.
“He was one of the leading campaigners against corruption in the Rajiv Gandhi era. His attacks on the government were perhaps the most aggressive ones. He had built a reputation as being both a master of facts and languages,” he said.
He said that in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Fernandes as the Convenor of the NDA was one of the architects of the alliance.
“Even his worst critics would not attempt to level allegations of corruption against him. Yet twice as a Defence Minister, once during the Tehelka Tapes and second in relation to the CAG Report relating to the purchase of the Coffins, false allegations of corruption were levelled against him,” he said.
He said a Commission of Inquiry in the Tehelka Tape issue vindicated him and the Coffingate Report was an absurdity.
“Metallic coffins were called costlier by comparing their costs with wooden coffins. Two unequal commodities do not cost the same,” he said.
Jaitley said Fernandes was a born ‘Lohiaite’ and he died as one. “His anti-Congress moorings were never compromised,” he added.