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Fernandes, a socialist to core, passes away


ANI Politics
George Fernandes, a socialist to the core and one of the most popular defence ministers, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 88.
Fernandes, who had been in public life for nearly six decades, had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a long time and was down with swine flu for the last few days as well.
He breathed his last early this morning, his family said.
Born in Mangalore in 1930, Fernandes joined a socialist trade movement in Mumbai in 1949, since when he had been active in public life.
Known for his simplistic lifestyle and always clad in a kurta-pyjama, Fernandes was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 and served several times as a Union Cabinet Minister, holding very important portfolios such as defence, railways and communications at the Centre.
He had emerged as a staunch opponent of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the days of emergency in the country.
As Defence Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government from 1998, he oversaw the historic Pokhran nuclear tests and the 1999 armed conflict with Pakistan in Kargil.
During the troop mobilisation all along the Pakistan border in the aftermath of terror attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, Fernandes travelled to several forward locations to boost the morale of the armed forces.
He also became a darling of the armed forces as he expedited sanction of the essentials like snow boots and snow scooters required by the soldiers, particularly deployed in the difficult areas such as Siachen glacier, by short-circuiting the bureaucratic procedures
He undertook several trips to the Siachen glacier, known as the highest battlefield in the world, to boost the morale of the forces there.
At one point of time, when it came to his notice that some bureaucrats were delaying sanction of certain requirements of the armed forces, he deputed two senior officials of the Defence Ministry to Siachen for some days as a punishment.
He is also remembered for calling the May 1974 railway strike which crippled the nation. The 20-day railway strike brought the nation to its knees and is recorded as the largest industrial action in the world.
He resigned as Defence Minister in 2001 when allegations of wrongdoings were levelled against him in a defence deal.
A prominent leader of erstwhile Janata Dal, Fernandes later founded the Samata Party which later merged with the JD(U).
His last stint as an MP was in the Rajya Sabha during 2009-2010.
Leaders from all hues showered praise on Fernandes, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi summing up what the later leader was - frank, fearless and forthright.
"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," Modi tweeted while condoling the demise.
"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," the Prime Minister added.
"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," he said.
Bihar Chief Minister and JSD(U) leader Nitish Kumar, who had worked closely with Fernandes for decades, broke down while remembering his former party colleague.
"His leadership and guidance gave us opportunities to learn a lot. His guidance is crucial for all of us," Kumar said.
Former Union Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, while paying tributes to the "elder brother", highlighted Fernandes' simplistic way of life, saying he used to travel in economy class even when he was part of the Union Cabinet.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also condoled the demise of the former union minister.
"I'm sorry to hear about the passing away of former Parliamentarian and Union Minister, George Fernandes. My condolences to his family and friends in this time of grief," Rahul Gandhi wrote on Facebook.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the late leader as "much-admired trade unionist".
"I have known him for decades. My condolences to his family and admirers," she said.
The last rites will be performed on Wednesday after the arrival of his son from the US.
The mortal remains of Fernandes will be cremated and his ashes will be buried, said social activist and former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly on Tuesday.
"He (Fernandes) had earlier expressed his wish to be cremated, but during his last days, he said he wanted to be buried. So, we will cremate the body and bury the ashes, to fulfil both his wishes," Jaitly, who was a partner of the late leader, told reporters here.

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First Published: Jan 29 2019 | 4:42 PM IST

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