Former Union minister and trade unionist George Fernandes died on Tuesday morning at the age of 88. Condolences poured in from leaders across party lines.
President Ram Nath Kovind said Fernandes epitomised “simple living and high thinking”. “And was a champion of democracy, during the Emergency and beyond,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Fernandes will be remembered for being a “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,” Modi tweeted.
Fernandes had served as the minster of Railways under the VP Singh government between 1989 and 1990. He was the defence minister between 1998 and 2004 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister.
“George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership,” Modi 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,” he said.
Modi said Fernandes never deviated from his political ideology and resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. Fernandes had protested against the state of Emergency between 1975 and 1977 and was arrested in 1976.
Social activist and former Samata Party President Jaya Jaitly said Fernandes’s last rites will be held on Wednesday.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said Fernandes was a “champion of civil rights”. “He always stood for the rights of the downtrodden and relentlessly fought for their welfare,” he said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India had lost a stalwart of the socialist movement. “He devoted his entire life for the welfare and uplift of the poor and marginalised,” Singh tweeted.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar offered his condolences. “He was a fiery trade union leader who fought for justice,” ANI quoted him as saying. Kumar and Fernandes had co-founded the Samata Party. The Bihar government has announced a two-day state mourning, according to ANI.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari said he considered Fernandes an icon. “He committed his life to the country,” Gadkari said. “He fought for justice for trade unions.”
Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala also paid tributes.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said Fernandes was a “tireless crusader fighting for the voiceless”. “You called a spade a spade [and] did so unabashedly. You were always a friend [and] well wisher of the people of J&K.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami called his death a “great loss” to the country.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said Fernandes represented an era of leaders “who were true statesmen and not just politicians”. “George Fernandes was a true socialist, scrupulously honest and never compromised his values at the altar of power,” she tweeted. “Today we mourn the loss of a titan.”
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu said he was an able administrator and a fearless trade union leader.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Fernandes was a much-admired trade unionist.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said Fernandes was an “unflinching leader who gave new strength and direction to workers’ movement in India”. “We have lost a leader who was a fighter and dedicated his life to the cause of workers, labourers and common people of India,” Pawar said. “He was my close friend, I have lost my senior colleague in public life.”
Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha said Fernandes was like an elder brother. “Our association started when I joined Janata Party,” ANI quoted him as saying. “When I met him I felt I was meeting my hero. He was a simple man.”