Former Defence minister George Fernandes passed away at 88 on Tuesday owing to health ailments. He had been unwell and bed ridden for past few years. He was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and swine flu, said sources from his family.
Fernandes served in the defence ministry from 1998 to 2004 under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led National Democratic Alliance government. As the defence minister of India, he monitored the Pokhran tests (1998) and The Kargil War (1999). He resigned from the post of defence minister following the infamous Tehelka Scandal only to be reappointed later. He made 18 visits to the Siachen glacier in Kashmir, which is the world’s highest battlefield. Fernandes was a supporter of the secessionist group Liberation tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He was also a member of the Janta Dal and founded the Samta Party. He also held the portfolios of communications, industry, and railways.
The All India Railway strike of 1974 was organised by Fernandes as President of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, which was a result of grievances by railway workers that had been built up over two decades before the strike. During his first tenure as MP, George Fernandes set up a Doordarshan Kendra (1978), Kanti Thermal Power Station (1978) and the Lijjat Papad factory to generate employment in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.
As a popular journalist, he was the editor of a Konkani language monthly Konkani Yuvak (Konkani Youth) in 1949 and also the Raithavani weekly in Kannada. He authored books like Socialist Communist Interaction in Indiaand Dignity for All: Essays in Socialism and Democracy.
Fernandes also courted several controversies. In June 1976, he was arrested in Calcutta on charges of smuggling dynamite to blow up government establishments in protest against the emergency, in what came to be known as the Baroda dynamite case.
As chairman of the Socialist Party of India, he faced prosecution for alleged conspiracy against the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.