New Delhi: Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passed away on Tuesday, 29 January, at the age of 88, family sources confirmed. According to media reports, Fernandes was said to have been suffering from swine flu in the last few days. Fernandes was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a long time.
Fernandes, who served as the defence minister in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004, had been crippled by illness and had withdrawn from public life. His last stint as a parliamentarian was as Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.
A native of Mangaluru, George Fernandes was the founder of the Samata Party. He rose to fame as an anti-Emergency crusader and civil rights activists and served as a Union Minister in the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai that came to power in 1977 to 1980.
Fernandes was the defence minister during Pokhran II
In 1998, India carried out five nuclear tests in Rajasthan’s Pokhran under the guidance of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Fernandes was then the defence minister.
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Addressing the media, Fernandes said, “What we have done is to ensure that our security concerns are taken care of and on that, there is no compromise on any point in time.” Though the US imposed sanctions on India, India gained a new identity after the tests.
George Mathew Fernandes (3 June 1930 – 29 Jan 2019) was a former Indian trade unionist, politician, journalist, agriculturist, and member of Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He was a key member of the Janata Dal and is the founder of the Samata Party. He has held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry, railways, and defence.
A native of Mangalore, Fernandes was sent to Bangalore in 1946 to be trained as a priest. In 1949, he moved to Bombay, where he joined the socialist trade union movement. Becoming a trade union leader, Fernandes organised many strikes and bandhs in Bombay in the 1950s and 1960s while working with the Indian Railways. He defeated SK Patil of Indian National Congress in the 1967 parliamentary elections from the South Bombay (now south Mumbai) constituency.
He organised the 1974 Railway strike when he was President of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation. Fernandes went underground during the Emergency era of 1975 while challenging Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for imposing a state of emergency, but in 1976 he was arrested and tried in the infamous Baroda dynamite case.
In 1977, after the Emergency had been lifted, Fernandes won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar in absentia and was appointed as Union Minister for Industries. During his tenure as union minister, he ordered American multinationals IBM and Coca-Cola to leave the country, due to investment violations. He was the driving force behind the Konkan Railway project during his tenure as railway minister from 1989 to 1990.
He was a defence minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government (1998–2004) when the Kargil War broke out between India and Pakistan, and India conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran. A veteran socialist, Fernandes has been dogged by various controversies, including the Barak Missile scandal and the Tehelka affair. George Fernandes won nine Lok Sabha elections from 1967 to 2004.