Remembering George Frenandes, the ‘Anti-Emergency Crusader’
Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam, Abhishek Sharma
Former Defence Minister George Fernandes passed away on Tuesday, 29 January, at the age of 88, family sources confirmed to The Quint.
Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a long time, which had forced him out of the public eye for several years. According to media reports, Fernandes had also contracted swine flu recently.
He had served as the defence minister in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004. He stepped down from his post after the ‘coffingate’ scandal broke out.
His last stint as a parliamentarian was as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.
Condolences Pour in Remembering Fernandes
Remembering Fernandes as the anti-Emergency crusader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “He resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. His simplicity and humility were noteworthy. My thoughts are with his family, friends and lakhs of people grieving. May his soul rest in peace.”
Referring to Fernandes as the “Champion of democracy”, President Kovind condoled the death of the former Union minister.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi expressed his condolences to Fernandes' family and friends.
Fernandes founded the Samata party and also served as a Union minister in the Morarji Desai government. He served as a Union minister multiple times, holding portfolios ranging from communications, industry and railways, besides defence.
Fernandes was elected nine times to the Lok Sabha with 1967 being the first time.
Fernandes: Anti-Emergency Crusader
Born to a Christian family in Mangalore, Karnataka, he came limelight when, as a firebrand trade unionist in Mumbai, he organised a Railways strike in 1974 that brought the country to a standstill.
Before Emergency was imposed, George Fernandes was first arrested on 1 May 1974 for organising a Railway strike.
In an interview to The News Minute, Fernandes’ brother Michael Fernandes had said in 2015, “George was about to address the union members before he was picked up while climbing the steps to the dais.”
However, when the Emergency was declared, Fernandes went underground. He didn’t permit journalists to take his picture, he avoided phone calls. However, he was again arrested on 10 June 1976 in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
Fernandes and others were charged with smuggling dynamite. It was alleged that the accused were involved in a plot to blow up railway tracks and government buildings in the Baroda Dynamite case. They were also charged with overthrowing the government.
Fernandes was still in jail when elections were announced in 1977. He won the Muzaffarpur polls in 1977 while he was in jail.
Fernandes Was the Defence Minister During Pokhran Nuclear Test
In 1998, India carried out five nuclear tests in Rajasthan’s Pokhran under the guidance of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Fernandes was then the defence minister.
Though the US imposed sanctions on India, India gained a new identity after the tests.
Controversies That Marred His Career
2001: Fernandes’ name appeared in the Tehelka scam which forced him to step down as the defence minister following the nationwide uproar. However, he was later cleared of all charges by the Phukan Commission and he was reinstated.
Tehelka scam pertained to a sting operation carried out by a portal named ‘Tehelka’ in which they revealed how top politicians and officers were involved in taking bribes during defence deals.
2002: Fernandes was accused of buying 500 poor quality aluminium caskets from the US at a price which was 13 times more than the actual cost. These caskets were to be used to transport the bodies of slain soldiers after the Kargil war.
2006: CBI registered a case against Fernandes, his associate Jaya Jaitly and ex-Navy Chief Admiral Sushil Kumar for alleged irregularities in purchasing the $7 billion Barak system from Israel in 2000.