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Jaya Jaitly pays tribute to renowned socialist George Fernandes


Jaya Jaitly pays tribute to renowned socialist George Fernandes
The ailment forced him out of the public eye for several years and he had recently contracted swine flu, she said.

George Fernandes was a "fearless leader" who was always full of energy and did "politics for the people", earning him admirers from Delhi to Bihar, his close aide Jaya Jaitly said Tuesday. A pall of gloom has descended over his residence in Delhi, where mourners have joined in to express condolences to the family.

"His son is in the US and is to travel back to Delhi to attend the funeral...I used to meet him regularly and I was to meet him tomorrow as well. But, such is life," she told PTI. Jaitly said she had kept in touch with him even after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, which had really left him debilitated.

The ailment forced him out of the public eye for several years and he had recently contracted swine flu, she said. Fernandes, a lifelong socialist despite his political adventurism that included Cabinet posts in two ideological opposite governments where he ousted Coca-Cola in 1977 and oversaw the Kargil war in 1999, died Tuesday at his residence. He was 88.

A call was received at a private hospital here from his home. An ambulance was dispatched. But doctors declared him dead at his home only, 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 today," the hospital later said in a statement.

Born to a Christian family in Mangalore in Karnataka, he 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. Jaitly said, "Fernandes was a fearless leader and always full of energy. He had that restlessness to do something for people. And, he did politics for the people."

His political career began with him defeating veteran Congress MP S K Patil from Bombay South in the 1967 Lok Sabha polls. He subsequently represented Muzzafarpur and Nalanda constituencies in Bihar and was also a Rajya Sabha member in 2009-2010. "His old colleagues from Muzzafarpur are coming to attend his funeral in Delhi. People in Bihar really loved him and they are mourning his death," she said.

A wave of sorrow swept across Bihar Tuesday following the death of the veteran socialist leader, who had virtually adopted the state as his second home and political 'karmabhoomi', representing its various constituencies in Parliament for a period spanning over four decades.

Condolences poured in from all quarters, with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar declaring a two-day state mourning. The former defence minister faded away from public memory after unsuccessfully fighting the 2009 Parliamentary elections, ending his political career. And, with the onset of Alzheimer's, his memory and health also had faded.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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