Putting aside their political differences, the leaders of all major political parties united in offering their rich tributes to the socialist leader and anti-emergency crusader George Fernandes on Tuesday. The Samata Party founder died following a prolong illness at the age of 88.
The last rites of Fernandes will be performed on Wednesday, said social activist and former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly.
But his death evoked an emotive response across the political parties of the country on Tuesday as President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also paid their tribute.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi conveyed his condolences to Fernandes’ family on Facebook, saying: “I’m sorry to hear about the passing away of former Parliamentarian & Union Minister, George Fernandes Ji…My condolences to his family and friends in this time of grief.”
“We’re saddened to hear about the passing away of former Defence Minister George Fernandes. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family & friends in their time of loss,” the Congress’ official twitter handle said in a statement.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar expressed grief over the demise of his friend George Fernandes and paid rich tributes to him, lauding his fiery oratory and his contributions as Union minister and trade union leader.
Pawar in a message hailed Fernandes for “strengthening and giving new direction” to the workers’ (labour) movement. He recalled that Fernandes, who hailed from North Karnataka, came to Mumbai in 1949 and “became one of Mumbai’s“.
“He dedicated himself to voice concerns of workers and to ensure justice for them. He built a strong organisation of BMC (civic body) workers. He also ably led the union of railway workers,” Pawar added.
Describing Fernandes as a “good parliamentarian”, Pawar in his condolence message praised him for leaving behind mark as an “effective administrator” while discharging duties as the country’s defence and industries minister.
“George was an excellent orator. His command over several languages was praiseworthy. We have lost a leader who created an independent identity of himself and who consistently fought for the commoners and workers,” he said.
“He was my personal friend. With his demise, I have lost a senior colleague,” Pawar added.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu in a message said: Deepest condolences on the demise of Sri George Fernandes, former Defence Minister. An able administrator and a fearless trade union leader, he committed his life to strengthening democracy and fighting against injustice.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee paid her tribute saying: “Very saddened at the passing away of former Defence Minister and much admired trade unionist, George Fernandes Ji. I have known him for decades. My condolences to his family and admirers.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal expressed in condolence as: “Sad to know about the passing away of former Defence Minister and veteran leader George Fernandes sahib. May his near and dear ones bear the loss with courage.”
“Fernandes would be remembered as one of the most prominent leaders of the socialist movement of the 1970s,” said Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, adding: “A fearless politician, he played an important role in the Indian polity. In his death, the nation had lost an astute leader.”
Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Sachin Pilot, said: “Saddened to learn about the demise of George Fernandes, former Defence minister, my condolences to the family and prayers for the departed soul.”
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik expressed his sorrow at the demise of Fernandes, saying it is a great loss for the country, politically as well as intellectually. “Deeply saddened at passing away of former Union minister and stalwart leader George Fernandes. It is a great loss for the nation, both politically as well as intellectually,” Patnaik wrote on Twitter. “Pray for his soul to rest in peace and my condolences for his family and followers,” he added.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was deeply saddened by his passing. “Today we have lost a stalwart of India’s socialist movement. He devoted his entire life for the welfare and uplift of the poor and marginalised. My heartfelt condolences to his family,” he wrote on Twitter.
“George Fernandes ji served the nation in several capacities and held key portfolios like Defence and Railways at different times. He led many labour movements and fought against the injustice towards them. His tenure as Defence Minister was outstanding. May his soul rest in peace,” the Home Minister added.
BJP national president Amit Shah said Fernandes left his mark on political events over decades. In a tweet, he said: “Anguished to learn about the demise of George Fernandes ji. His political persona left an indelible mark on several significant political events over decades. He also held several important ministerial portfolios in the Union cabinet over time.”
Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani wrote on twitter: “Saddened by the demise of former Defence Minister George Fernandes. An able administrator, a distinguished politician, his contribution towards strengthening democracy will be etched in the hearts & minds of Indians forever. My heartfelt condolences to his loved ones. Om Shanti.”
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy recalled his friendship with Fernandes despite ideological differences.
“Very sad to hear about George Fernandes’ demise. He was a very good friend in his later years. Earlier we had ideological differences due to his being socialist and I for market based economy but we were united in opposing TDK and residual Nehru family,” he tweeted.
Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said, “I am pained to learn about the sad demise of veteran leader and distinguished parliamentarian George Fernandesji. His life symbolised constant struggle for preservation of the basic values that constitute the bedrock of our democracy.”
“He was a strong votary of indestructible nature of civil liberties and always stood for the rights of the people. As a senior parliamentarian, he voiced the concerns and aspirations of the teeming masses on the floor of the House. In his demise, India has lost one of her distinguished sons. I convey my condolences to the bereaved members of his family,” the Lok Sabha Speaker added.
Fernandes was widely known as a firebrand trade unionist and socialist. He was the industry minister in the post-Emergency Morarji Desai government in 1977 when he decided to throw Coke as well as IBM out of India over their refusal to follow the provision of what was then the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA).
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The provision stipulated that foreign companies should dilute their equity stake in their Indian associates to 60 percent.
Fernandes wanted Coca-Cola Company to not just transfer 60 per cent of the shares of its Indian firm but also the formula for its concentrate to Indian shareholders. The company said it was agreeable to transferring a majority of the shares but not the formula, which it contended was a trade secret.
The company exited the Indian market as the government denied a licence to import Coke concentrate. Fernandes then introduced a substitute indigenous drink called ’77’.
He was the defence minister under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but never shied away from speaking his mind about the disinvestment and even put it in writing that the sell-off policy was “making the rich richer and creating a private monopoly