George Fernandes, Emergency activist and Vajpayee's defence minister, dies

Legendary George Fernandes passes away at 88

Legendary George Fernandes passes away at 88

George Fernandes (88), the man who had set out to be a priest but instead became a trade union leader, a Socialist, and finally the Defence Minister of India, breathed his last in New Delhi on Tuesday morning.

Fernandes' years as Defence Minister saw him visit the highest battlefield in the world, Siachen, a record 18 times, sometimes carrying Christmas cakes, sometime just to be among the soldiers.

In her condolence message, the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said: "George Fernandes was a true socialist, scrupulously honest and never compromised his values at the altar of power". Fernandes served as the Defence Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Cabinet. "George Sahab represented the best of India's political leadership".

Tributes poured in for the veteran leader, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying he was frank and fearless, and never deviated from his ideology. "His simplicity and humility were noteworthy", he said.

A bereaved Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to his Twitter page to pay the ideal homage to the gentleman that Fernandes was.

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"Distressed to learn of the passing of Shri George Fernandes, who served India in many capacities, including as Defence Minister", wrote the President of India on Twitter.
My thoughts are with his family, friends and lakhs of people grieving. "He was among the most effective voices for the rights of the poor and marginalised", he said. This desire to fight for justice became the defining quality of George Fernandes, one of India's most firebrand union leaders who remained a socialist activist even in his several stints as Union minister. His influences include Placid De'Mello - the trade union leader known as the "King of the Dockyards" - and Ram Manohar Lohia. The two leaders had founded the Samata Party in 1994 after they parted ways with the erstwhile Janata Dal that had formed a governemnt at the Centre in 1989 following a defeat of the Congress party on the back of an election campaign dominated by the allegations of irregularities in the Bofors deal signed during the tenue of Rajiv Gandhi government.

"Rest in peace George Fernandes Sahib".

File photo of George Fernandes at his residence.

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After the fall of the Vajpayee government in 2004, Fernandes found himself on the margins of the JD (U), under the shadow of a new star, Nitish Kumar.

His term was eventful as it witnessed the Kargil war and Pokhran test.

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