New Delhi: Former Defence Minister George Fernandes died in Delhi on Tuesday after struggling with swine flu for the last few days. He was 88.
Fernandes had been reportedly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. According to reports, a family member confirmed his death.
George Fernandes served as Defence Minister between 1998 and 2004.
One of the most prominent leaders of the socialist movement in the 1970s, George Fernandes was a senior Janata Dal leader before he founded the Samata Party.
Apart from the defence ministry during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, Fernandes held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry and railways.
Condoling his death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “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.”
Fernandes 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 after his surprise victory in the 1967 parliamentary elections, over a Congress veteran in Mumbai.
In 1974, he organised a nationwide railway strike.
During the 1975 Emergency imposed by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government, George Fernandes was arrested for what was dubbed the “Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy” to blow up government establishments and railway tracks. He contested the 1977 election from jail and won the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar by a landslide.
George Fernandes became a hero of the Emergency. He was made minister when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister.
As Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Defence Minister, Fernandes oversaw the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil war.
He stepped down as the Defence Minister in 2004 after the “Coffingate” scandal erupted. He was later absolved by two commissions of inquiry. The Tehelka expose also cast a shadow on his final years in office.
George Fernandes was a parliamentarian last as a Rajya Sabha member in 2009-2010.