GEORGE Fernandes, Fiery Trade Unionist, Crusader Against Emergency Era, Is No More

George Mathew Fernandes, popularly known as George Fernandes, a fiery trade unionist and former federal Minister for Railways, Communications, Industry  and Defence  in non-Congress  governments, has passed away aged 88 in his New Delhi residence  on Wednesday  morning. Mangalore  born Fernandes, was trained to be a Roman Catholic priest, but opted for trade  unionism to serve the  working  class and became a prominent face of socialist movement in India. He was instrumental in founding the Janata Dal and is the founder of the Samata Party  which allied  with BJJP-Bharatiya  Janata Party.Pyajma- kurta clad Fernandes, who led a Spartan life, became  famous for fighting  emergency  era  during  Indira  Gandhi’s  regime.

When he was serving as the Minister for Indian Railways in the VP Singh government from 1989 to 1990, he was instrumental in setting up the Konkan Railway project   connecting Mangalore and Bumbai.As Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Defence Minister, Fernandes oversaw the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 and the Kargil war. He stepped down in 2004 after ‘coffin gate’ broke out. He  had been crippled by Alzheimer’s and had withdrawn from public life over the past decade. His last stint as a parliamentarian was as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.His family told news agency PTI that he was suffering from swine flu for the last few days. One of the most prominent leaders of the socialist movement in the 1970s, his first stint in politics was with the Janata Party after the Emergency. Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered him as “the best of India’s political leadership.” He 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.” PM Modi added that he is saddened by his death. He came to prominence in 1967 with a surprise victory over a senior Congress leader from Mumbai. During the 1975 Emergency Fernandes was arrested on the charges of blowing up government establishments and railway tracks. He contested the 1977 election from jail and won the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar by a huge margin. He was made the industries minister when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 with Morarji Desai as Prime Minister. Minister  for  Home Affairs Rajnath Singh, noted  economist, activist and BJP leaders Dr Subramaniam  Swamy West Bengal Chief Minister  Mamata Banerjee, her Rajasthan counterpart  Ashok Gehlot  are among  countless  politicians  who have  mourned his demise.AICC  President   Rahul Gandhi has also offered condolences to his family and friends. “I’m sorry to hear about the passing away of former Parliamentarian & Union Minister, George Fernandes Ji,” he wrote in a Facebook post. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said she was very saddened at the passing away of former defence minister and “much admired trade unionist, George Fernandes Ji”. “I have known him for decades. My condolences to his family and admirers,” she tweeted. Incidentally, he was jokingly called Bengal’s JAMAI  Babu as he had wedded Leila Kabir, daughter of  Humayun  Kabir, who was  Union Minister for Education from  West Bengal.

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