George Fernandes served as the Defence Minister in the National Democratic Alliance from 1998 to 2004.

Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passes away at age 88File image
news Death Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 09:18

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 Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express their condolences.

Distressed to learn of the passing of Shri George Fernandes, who served India in many capacities, including as Defence Minister. He epitomised simple living and high thinking. And was a champion of democracy, during the Emergency and beyond. We will all miss him #PresidentKovind

— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) January 29, 2019

Prime Minister Modi wrote that George Fernandes represented the best of India's political leadership and he was saddened by his death.

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

When we think of Mr. George Fernandes, we remember most notably the fiery trade union leader who fought for justice, the leader who could humble the mightiest of politicians at the hustings, a visionary Railway Minister and a great Defence Minister who made India safe and strong.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 29, 2019

During his long years in public life, George Sahab never deviated from his political ideology. He resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. His simplicity and humility were noteworthy. My thoughts are with his family, friends and lakhs of people grieving. May his soul rest in peace.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 29, 2019

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.

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