Former defence minister George Fernandes dead at 88 

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jan 29, 2019, 12:07 PM(IST)

File photo of George Fernandes. Photograph:( DNA )

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Fernandes served as defence minister from 1998 to 2004 in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. He had at one time been training to become a priest before moving to trade union politics. 

Former defence minister George Fernandes died Tuesday morning at the age of 88. The news was broken by his family. 

Fernandes had been unwell for some time. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's and PTI reported his family as saying he had recently contracted swine flu. 

Fernandes served as defence minister from 1998 to 2004 in the NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. As defence minister, he oversaw India's 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan and the limited war India fought against Pakistan in Kargil, Jammu and Kashmir in 1999.  

Former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley said Tuesday that Fernandes's last rites will be performed on Wednesday. 

"He had expressed his wished earlier to be cremated but during his last days, he said he wanted to be buried. So, we will cremate the body and bury the ashes, to fulfil both his wishes," she added. 

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Fernades was born in Mangalore, Karnataka. He had at one time been training to become a priest before moving to trade union politics. 

Also read: 5 interesting facts about 'George the Giant Killer'

He won his first Lok Sabha election in 1967. 

He organised a nationwide railway strike in 1974. 

He was arrested during the Emergency and charged with conspiring to blow up railway tracks. He contested the 1977 elections from jail — he had by then become an anti-Emergency hero — winning the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar by a landslide, and was made industries minister in the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai. 

He went on to found the Samata Party. 

Fernandes also served as railway minister in the VP Singh government from 1989 to 1990. 

Fernandes stepped down as Vajpayee's defence minister in 2004 after the "coffin gate" scandal broke out. He was however later absolved by two commissions of inquiry. 

The Tehelka scandal also cast a long shadow over his term in office. 

Fernandes's death was condoled Tuesday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

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"George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership," Modi said. "Saddened by his passing away," he added. 

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