By Tenzin Sangmo
His Holiness paying a visit to an ailing Fernandes, file photo by Aditya Jha - Indian Express
DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 29: His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his condolences over the death of his longtime friend, a staunch Tibet supporter and the former Defence Minister of India, Sh. George Fernandes, who passed away early this morning after a lengthy battle with illness that kept him bedridden at his Delhi residence for eight years.
George Mathew Fernandes was an Indian trade unionist, journalist, agriculturist, and member of Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He founded the Samata Party and held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry, railways, and defence.
In the letter to Shrimati Leila Kabir, the wife of the late minister, His Holiness wrote, “I am saddened to learn of the passing away of my friend, Mr. George Fernandes after a prolonged illness. I offer my condolences to you and your family members at this great loss. I had the privilege of knowing him for over five decades during which we met regularly, and as you know, I continued to visit him after he retired from active politics.”
In the same letter, His Holiness said he admired Fernandes greatly for his dedication to what he believed in, no matter how difficult the situation was and that he never missed an opportunity to speak up for the Tibetan people as well as for others.
Calling him a great humanitarian and believer in truth, His Holiness wrote, “Throughout his life, his voice to millions of poor and needy people of the country. He had a firm conviction for justice and wisdom. He was a real heroic leader.”
His Holiness expressed confidence that Fernandes would be reborn yet again to serve his country, in particular, the cause of the less privileged people.
The letter concluded, “As I had told him during our meetings over the years, I will always remember him.”
As the Defence Minister, Fernandes was famous for declaring that China is the "potential threat No. 1" to India in May 1998 and said that he thinks there is a reluctance to face the reality that China's intentions need to be questioned.
On his visit to Dharamshala in July 2009, he had said in clear terms that the Tibetan refugees have human rights in India and shouting, demonstrating, and protesting are all within their rights. “Never should a Tibetan be arrested in India for exercising his personal freedoms.”
Mourning the loss of a great friend of Tibet, the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dr. Lobsang Sangay said he had the privilege of meeting the late minister on a number of occasions and events during the former’s days at Delhi University.
“He was then the strongest voice on Tibet whether he was inside or outside of the government. We lost truly a great friend of Tibet. May his soul be reborn soon and continue to serve for the betterment of humanity, India and Tibet.”
A prayer ceremony is scheduled to take place tomorrow from 2 pm - 3 pm at T-building, Central Tibetan Secretariat.
The President of Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), Mr Tenzing Jigmey paid a visit to the late minister’s Delhi residence this morning to pay his respect as did the former Nangsi Kalon (Home Minister) Gyari Dolma, the Representative of the Bureau of the Dalai Lama in Delhi, Mr. Dongchung Ngodup and Mr. Tempa Tsering, former representative His Holiness in New Delhi.
Jigmey said, “I greatly respect him not only for his courage but he was one of the most consistent supporters of the Tibetan cause, never wavering from his stand for Tibet’s freedom.”
The TYC obituary recalls the historic moment on 9th August, 2007 when Mr. Fernandes broke the TYC hunger strike by offering orange juice to the hunger strikers at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. “His steadfast contributions towards the cause of Tibet will be etched in the memory of Tibetans and the history of Tibet.”
Other major Tibetan NGOs are planning to pay their respect at the time of reporting.
Fernandes, 88, is survived by his wife and a son in New York.