A popular defence minister

A native of Mangalore, Fernandes was the co-founder of the Samta Party. Much like several of his contemporaries, he first made his mark as an anti-Emergency crusader and civil rights activist.

His maiden stint at the Centre came when he was made Union Minister in the Janata Party government headed by Morarji Desai between 1977 and 1980.

He was later part of the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, helming the crucial defence portfolio. He was the defence minister when the Kargil battle broke out in 1999.

Fernades stepped down as Defence Minister in 2004 over allegations of corruption in the purchase of coffins for Kargil martyrs, but was absolved by two commissions of inquiry.

He was a popular defence minister who made it a point to visit soldiers in Siachen. He is said to have made 18 visits to the icy heights of the Siachen glacier, the world’s highest battlefield.

He was known to interact with soldiers, especially jawans, during his visits. Fernandes had once made senior officials of the Defence Ministry visit Siachen to give them a first-hand feel of what soldiers undergo.

His years as Raksha Mantri were marked by a huge increase in the defence budget as compared to the allocations made by previous governments.

Following the Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998, Fernandes is said to have termed China “India’s enemy number one”, a statement he later termed a media concoction.