George Fernandes, former Defense Minister, dies at 88
Former Defense Minister George Fernandes passed away on Tuesday at the age of 88. He was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and had contracted swine flu recently. An anti-emergency crusader, Fernandes was the Defense Minister in late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's cabinet between 1998 and 2004. His death was condoled by all including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, and Governor Swaraj.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoles his death on Twitter
The one image which defined Fernandes
Born in 1930, Fernandes emerged in the national political scene in 1970s. In 1975, when Emergency was declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Fernandes was arrested. A picture of chained Fernandes, raising his hand to defy the rules, became the telling image of the man he was. He was remembered as a fearless politician, who always spoke his mind.
Fernandes led a historic strike in 1974
A native of Mangalore, Fernandes moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1949. In 1974, he was instrumental in organizing a massive strike of railway employees. He was the leader of All India Railwaymen's Federation at the time. For 20 days, nearly 1.7 million railway employees didn't turn up for work. Miffed with the incidents, Gandhi had ordered arrests of thousands of employees.
In 1977, Fernandes won Muzaffarpur seat
In 1977, when first elections were held after Emergency was lifted, Fernandes won Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar. He was made the Union Minister of Industries in the Janata Party government led by Morarji Desai. A socialist, Fernandes ordered companies like Coca-Cola and IBM to leave India for alleged investment violations. Under PM VP Singh, he handled Railway Ministry from 1989 to 1990.
Fernandes had refused personal security
One of the most memorable tales in the political circuit related to Fernandes is his decision to not take up personal security. Despite being an important minister, he refused security citing the burden that unnecessary cavalcade puts on state coffers.
Fernandes played vital role in Pokhran tests, Kargil war
As Defense Minister, Fernandes presided the Pokhran nuclear tests and the 1999 Kargil war. The tests, which were conducted in Rajasthan, ruffled feathers in the US but made India a nuclear power. Fernandes had back then openly called China India's enemy number 1. Another highlight of his career was India's win against Pakistan in 1999. The war lasted for nearly two months.
"Coffingate" led to Fernandes' resignation as Defense Minister
Fernandes quit as Defense Minister in 2004 after "Coffingate" broke. He was accused of corruption in the purchase of coffins for the armed forces. Giving his resignation after furor, Fernandes claimed allegations are false. Notably, he was absolved of all charges by two inquiry commissions.