Leaders cutting across party lines on Tuesday hailed former defence minister and socialist leader George Fernandes as a fearless and upright politician who fought for protecting democracy and raised his voice for the rights of the poor and marginalised.
Fernandes “epitomised simple living and high thinking”, said President Ram Nath Kovind who was joined by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders in condoling the demise of Fernandes on Tuesday at the age of 88.
Recalling Fernandes’ contribution, Prime Minister Modi said he was a simple, humble, frank and fearless leader who never deviated from his political ideology and resisted the Emergency tooth and nail.
Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which had forced him out of the public eye several years ago, and had recently contracted swine flu.
“Distressed to learn of the passing of Shri George Fernandes, who served India in many capacities, including as Defence Minister. He epitomised simple living and high thinking. And was a champion of democracy, during the Emergency and beyond. We will all miss him,” President Kovind said.
Describing Fernandes as a “fighter” for the working class, Vice President Naidu said he was “an upright politician, an able administrator, a great parliamentarian and above all was a good human being”.
In a series of tweets, Modi said, “George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership. 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.”
“When we think of Fernandes, we remember most notably the fiery trade union leader who fought for justice, the leader who could humble the mightiest of politicians at the hustings,” he said.
“A visionary Railway Minister and a great Defence Minister who made India safe and strong,” the PM said.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee said he was pained by the demise of his long time friend in the opposition and colleague in Parliament.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a letter to Fernande’s wife Leila Kabir Fernandes, said “in his death our country has lost a versatile personality who with his unparalleled efficiency excelled as a mass leader and gave paramount importance to the well-being of the down-trodden people of our country”.
BJP chief Amit Shah said the socialist leader stood steadfastly to protect the country’s democratic values and left an indelible mark on country’s political history.
“The most abiding memories of Fernandes ji are those of his fierce opposition to the Emergency in 1975. He stood steadfastly to protect India’s democratic values,” Shah said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also condoled the demise of former Defence Minister George Fernandes.
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani recalled his long association with Fernandes and described him as a fearless and forthright leader who always fought for justice.
He “took up the cause for the poor and was a very effective parliamentarian,” Advani said in a statement.
Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh, in his condolence message, said Fernandes was an indefatigable fighter all his life for freedom of expression, thought, justice and liberty for all. “His life and works shall always remain a forceful inspiration for the people even after his demise,” he said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar paid tributes to his “friend”, recalling Fernandes’ fiery oratory and contribution as Union minister and trade union leader.
Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said Fernandes was a much-admired trade union leader.
Odisha Chief Minister and BJD leader Naveen Patnaik said it is a great loss for the country, politically as well as intellectually.
Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan said Fernandes “held kept aloft the beacon of democracy in the darkest hour of the Emergency”.
Other chief ministers including K Palaniswami (Tamil Nadu), N Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh), K Chandrasekhar Rao (Telangana), Amarinder Singh (Punjab) and Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) also condoled his death.
The CPI paid tributes to Fernandes, recalling the leader’s contributions as a trade unionist.
Condolences poured in from all quarters in Bihar, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a long-time associate of Fernandes, declaring a two-day state mourning.
Jailed RJD supremo Lalu Prasad tweeted, “Extremely saddened to hear about the demise of socialist leader, freedom fighter and former Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes”.
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said on Twitter, “A great fighter and symbol of anti-Congressism…As convenor of NDA played an important role in Ataljis government. Nobody can match George. RIP”.
Former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah also paid tributes to Fernandes.
“Rest in peace George Fernandes Sahib. You were a tireless crusader fighting for the voiceless, the marginalised & for those that needed someone in their corner. You called a spade a spade & did so unabashedly. You were always a friend & well wisher of the people of J&K. God speed,” Omar tweeted.
“Today we mourn the loss of a titan. He represented an era of leaders who were true statesmen and not just politicians,” Mehbooba said.