Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passes away at age 88

Updated: Jan 30, 2019, 15:33 IST | mid-day online desk

George Fernandes had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passes away at age 88
George Fernandes. Pic/ AFP

George Fernandes, the Defence Minister of India, during the Atul Bihari Vajpayee government passed away at the age of 88 today due to prolonged illness, his family sources said. Recently, he had also contracted swine flu. 

He had a cold and cough and was taken to the Max Hospital in Saket by his wife, Liela Fernandes, earlier in the day when doctors said that the veteran leader was already dead.

George Fernandes was a politician, journalist, trade unionist, agriculturist and member of the Rajya Sabha.

George Fernandes had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He was an important member of the Janata Dal and had also founded the Samata Party.

Fernandes was born in Mangalore on June 3, 1930. During the 1975 emergency, Fernandes was arrested and tried in the Baroda dynamite case. However, he contested the 1977 elections from jail and won the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar. 

Fernandes, a long-time socialist, rose to political prominence when he led the Bombay Taxi Unions Association and defeated "uncrowned king of Bombay" S.K. Patil, a Congress heavy-weight in the 1967 general election.

A fire-brand and hardworking Fernandes, only 37 then, campaigned tirelessly, covering large swathes of the constituency with his workers. And when the results were declared, he unseated the 'king' with 48.5 per cent of the votes.

Fernandes later joined the Janata Dal. He served as Railways Minister in the V.P. Singh government from 1989 to 1990. He was instrumental in setting up the Konkan Railway project, connecting Mangalore and Bombay.

In 1994, Fernandes formed the Samata Party, which later allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party. He was appointed convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and served as the Defence Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government for two terms, between 1998 and 2004. 

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

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death and tweeted: "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."

Congress President Rahul Gandhi also condoled the demise of former defence minister. "I'm sorry to hear about the passing away of former Parliamentarian & Union Minister, George Fernandes Ji. My condolences to his family and friends in this time of grief," Gandhi said in a Facebook post.

Minister of Commerce and Industry, Civil Aviation, Suresh Prabha tweeted:

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was also saddened with the demise.

George Fernandes was a parliamentarian in 2009-10 as a member of the Rajya Sabha. 

His son, who lives in New York, is expected back in a day or two, after which the funeral will take place, the sources said.

(with inputs from agencies) 

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