In this Nov. 18, 2001 file photo, the then defence minister George Fernandes takes a view through a heavy machine gun, seized from the Pakistan army in Kargil. (Photo Courtesy: PTI)

George Fernandes: A Life From Seminary To Prison And Parliament

Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passed away on Jan. 29, 2018 at the age of 88. Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a long time.

He was born in Mangaluru, Karnataka to a Christian family on June 3, 1930. He left the seminary at 19, and went on to become a union leader in Mumbai. He was a member of Parliament from South Bombay and for many terms a parliamentarian from Muzaffarpur and Nalanda in Bihar.

Fernandes is best remembered as the union leader who led the famous all-India railways strike in 1974 that brought the country to a standstill. He was a staunch anti-Congress leader and emerged as a key figure in the fight to restore democracy after then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency in 1975. His underground crusade against the Emergency catapulted him among the leading opposition figures.

As industry minister under the Morarji Desai government, he forced Coca-Cola and IBM to leave India in 1977. He co-founded the Samta Party with Nitish Kumar in 1994. As defence minister he oversaw the Kargil war in 1999 and the Pokhran nuclear test in 1998. Fernandes’ clean reputation was marred by one blemish when close aide Jaya Jaitly was accused of facilitating payment of bribes by middlemen, who were undercover reporters for Tehelka magazine. Following the scandal, he was forced to resign as defence minister.

But his political career had ended earlier when he fought a lonely battle as independent from Muzaffarpur in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls after his party JD(U) denied him a ticket after he was affected by Alzheimer's. This time, his constituency rejected him. Yet, he returned to Parliament as Rajya Sabha member.

A year later he was out of the upper house also, never to return to active politics.