Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passed away on Tuesday after a prolonged illness. He was 88. Fernandes served as the Defence Minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Cabinet.
Family members told TNM that Fernandes passed away on Tuesday morning in New Delhi. He was taken to a hospital after he said he was feeling unwell. Fernandes had been living with Alzheimer’s disease and his last stint was as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.
According to media reports, Fernandes’ last rites will be held in New Delhi after his son arrives in India from the United States.
President Kovind, Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed condolences on his death.
A key member of the Janata Dal and the founder of the Samata Party, Fernandes had held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry and railways in addition to the defence portfolio.
Born on June 3, 1930, George Fernandes is a native of Mangaluru. He made his name as a powerful trade union leader before entering politics and finally becoming a member of the Rajya Sabha from Bihar. At the beginning of his political career, he had earned the moniker of ‘George the Giant Killer’ after he defeated veteran Congress leader SK Patil in 1967. Prior to the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, he was jailed for the Baroda dynamite case but still managed to pull off a landslide win in the Muzaffarpur constituency.
He was a strong opponent of the Indira Gandhi emergency period. The Congress party, led by Indira Gandhi, was ultimately defeated by the Janata Party, headed by Morarji Desai. George Fernandes, on capturing the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar, was appointed the Union Minister for Industries.
In 1974, as the president of All India Railway Men’s Federation, he was responsible for 15 lakh railway workers going on strike to end decade-old grievances voiced by the workers.
He served as the Defence Minister in the National Democratic Alliance from 1998 to 2004. During his term, the Kargil war was fought and the Pokhran nuclear tests were carried out.
He was forced to resign as the Defence Minister after the Tehelka sting broke exposing BJP president Bangar Laxman and he was alleged to be part of a corrupt defence procurement scandal. He was also named as an accused by the CBI in a case related to Barak 1 missile deal.
Apart from his role in active politics, he had also authored books on politics including his autobiography. The other books include What Ails the Socialists in 1972, Dignity for All and Essays in Socialism and Democracy, published in 1991.