NEW DELHI : Former defence minister and leader of the Samata Party George Fernandes, 88, passed away on Tuesday after being unwell for long. He was the defence minister of India during the Kargil war in 1999 and was part of the cabinet of the first non-Congress government that served a full five-year term.

Political parties across the spectrum came forward to express their condolence on the death of the socialist leader. Fernandes was one of the oldest alliance partners of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and was instrumental in bringing together smaller political parties to join hands with BJP in 1998 and 1999 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister of the National Democratic Alliance NDA.

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"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. Saddened by his passing away. When we think of George 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, a visionary Railway Minister and a great Defence Minister who made India safe and strong," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a series of tweets on Tuesday.

"During his long years in public life, George Sahab never deviated from his political ideology. He resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. His simplicity and humility were noteworthy. My thoughts are with his family, friends and lakhs of people grieving. May his soul rest in peace," Modi added.

Fernandes would be remembered for his role in opposing the Emergency in 1975 when he was part of the Socialist Party and later became the industry minister in the Janata Party (JP) government in 1977 under the prime ministership of Morarji Desai.

After the split in Janata Dal in 1994, Fernandes formed the Samata Party along with present Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. The party became an ally of BJP in 1996. "I offer my deepest condolences on passing away of former defence minister George Fernandes. He was a fiery trade union leader who fought for justice. May his soul rest in peace. My thoughts are with his family," said Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Political leaders from across the spectrum came forward to express their condolence on the demise of the socialist leader. "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. Godspeed," former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah tweeted.

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