Former Defence minister and anti-Emergency crusader George Fernandes passed away here on Tuesday at the age of 88 following a prolonged illness, his family sources said. Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, he contracted swine flu, they said.
Fernandes was India’s Defence minister in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Prime minister Narendra Modi took to social media site Twitter to express his condolence saying that “George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership.”
George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership.
Frank and fearless, forthright and farsighted, he made a valuable contribution to our country. He was among the most effective voices for the rights of the poor and marginalised.
Saddened by his passing away.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 29, 2019
He was born in Mangaluru in 1930 and was training to be a Roman Catholic priest when he was drawn to trade union politics. He rose to prominence in 1967 with a surprise victory over a senior Congress leader from Mumbai.
During the 1975 Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi, Fernandes was arrested on the charges of blowing up government establishments and railway tracks.
He contested the 1977 election from jail and won the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar by a huge margin. He was made the industries minister when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister. He also served as the Railways minister in the VP Singh government from 1989 to 1990. He was instrumental in setting up the Konkan Railway project, connecting Mangalore and Bombay.
As Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Defence Minister, Fernandes oversaw the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil war. He stepped down in 2004 after ‘coffin gate’ broke out. He was later absolved by two commissions of inquiry. Fernandes held several ministerial portfolios under Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government including communications, industry and railways. He had been crippled by Alzheimer’s and had withdrawn from public life over the past decade. His last stint as a parliamentarian was as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.