New Delhi: George Mathew Fernandes, former defence minister in the Vajpayee government, breathed his last today in New Delhi at 7 AM. He was 88 years old. He was the defence minister between 1998 and 2004.

Reports state that Fernandes, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, in the last few days, was also ill with the flu.

The former defence minister was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967 and last served in parliament as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010.

George Fernandes was known as the civil rights activist and anti-Emergency crusader. 

He hailed from Mangaluru and was the founder of the Samata Party. He also served as a Union Minister in the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai between 1977 and 1980. He was a Railway Minister between 1989 and 1990 in the VP Singh government.

Fernandes stepped down as the defence minister in 2004 after his name was heard in the ‘coffingate’ scandal. He was later given a clean chit by two commissions of inquiry.

George Fernandes was born on June 3, 1990, to a Roman Catholic family in Mangaluru, Karnataka, and was the son of  Alice Martha and John Jeseph Fernandes. He was married to Leila Kabir, but separated from her. He was later living with Jaya Jaitly for some years. George and Leila have a son Sean, who is in the US.

Like George Fernandes, his brothers Michael, Lawrence, Aloysius and Richard are politically inclined and were jailed during the emergency, just like George.

Michael Fernandes is a trade union member. He was one of the prominent leaders of the JD(U). But in 2013, he joined Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP) and lost the election. He still continues to be a trade union leader.

George Fernandes led a life of struggle. He completed his Class X from St Aloysius College, Mangaluru, and decided to quit studies and joined the seminary to become a priest against the wishes of his father.

But soon, he was disillusioned after studying philosophy for two years till 1948. He gathered the exploited workers in road transport in Mangaluru to bring them into the organised sector, and then left for Mumbai. There, he slept on the streets till he got a job as proof reader  in a newspaper.

Fernandes then came in contact with veteran union leader Placid D'Mello, and socialist Rammanohar Lohia, who had the greatest influence in his life. Soon after that Fernandes joined the socialist trade union movement, which eventually paved the way for his political journey.