George Fernandes dies after prolonged illness
New Delhi: George Fernandes, a lifelong socialist despite his political adventurism that included Cabinet posts in two opposite ideological governments where he ousted Coca-Cola in 1977 and oversaw the Kargil war in 1999, died Tuesday. He was 88.
Fernandes had Alzheimer's disease, which had forced him out of the public eye for several years, and had recently contracted swine flu, his longtime associate, Jaya Jaitly, said, adding that he died at his residence here.
A call was received at a private hospital from his home, and an ambulance was dispatched although doctors had declared him dead at his home already, hospital sources said.
"Fernandes was attended to at his home by a Max Healthcare team, which found him unresponsive and declared him dead at 06:42 am Tuesday," the hospital said in a statement.
Fernandes, who was born to a Christian family in Mangalore, Karnataka, burst into national limelight when as a firebrand trade unionist in Mumbai he organised a Railways strike in 1974 that brought the country to a standstill. Ironically, he became the Railways minister in 1989 under V.P. Singh's National Front coalition government, comprising mostly Left-leaning parties.
Despite being a staunch critic of the RSS, Fernandes joined the BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999, in which he was appointed the defence minister. Under his stewardship, India fought the Kargil war in 1999. It was also during his tenure that India conducted a nuclear test at Pokhran in 1998.
He was also the industries minister under the Janata Party government which had defeated former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1977.