Tributes and condolences are pouring in from all parts of the country as the Indian Christian community and national political and civic leaders mourn the death of 80 year old Oscar Fernandes, a prominent Catholic politician from Karnataka State and former Union minister, on September 13.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his grief over the demise of Fernandes and extended his condolences to the bereaved family.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing his condolences to the bereaved family said, “I was deeply shocked and saddened to learn about the sudden and untimely demise of our beloved Shri Oscar Fernandes today. With his hard work, pleasant nature and popularity he became one of the tallest leaders of the Congress Party from Karnataka who helped the Congress Party in making many important decisions,” Singh wrote.
Fernandes, who served as the Union minister of labour and employment in the first United Progressive Alliance government, was a strong backroom man who also served as the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary.
Oscar Fernandes, died at Mangaluru, in Karnataka state. He was hospitalized after he suffered an injury in July. He was 80.
He is survived by his wife Blossom Fernandes, son, and a daughter.
Fernandes’ father Roque Fernandes was an academician who served as the first president of the Manipal Institute of Technology and his mother Leonissa Fernandes was the first woman magistrate in India.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India joined political and civil society leaders to mourn the death of Oscar Fernandes.
Fernandes “was a staunch Catholic and always upheld Gospel values in public,” said Cardinal Gracias in his condolence message.
He said that Oscar put “the interests of the people as a priority. He was genuinely selfless. The Congress party has lost a pillar. The country has lost a true patriot who gave his all for the nation.”
“More than a good politician, he was like a good Christian role model who never compromised his Christian values even at worst scenarios,” Father Faustine Lobo, the former director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for India, told Matters India, a catholic news website.
He said Fernandes was “a very honest politician, approachable, well respected, always available and never arrogant.”
Fernandes was a founding president of the Catholic Sabha in 1987. The Sabha seeks to promote social and political leadership from the Christian community. Catholic Sabha has been involved in the Mangalore and Udupi dioceses ever since.
Allen Brooks, a prominent Catholic lay leader based in Assam, recalled his association with Oscar Fernandes, and said that the community had lost a friend. ‘This brings an end to a long association,” he said in a message.
Fernandes was a multi-faceted person. He was often seen with his mouth organ at public functions and was passionate about sports such as kabaddi, volley ball, and swimming. Whenever time permitted, he used to also sing in the church choir.
Delhi based senior Catholic journalist John Dayal, recalled his association with Fernandes from the time he became a Member of Parliament and relocated to New Delhi. “The Catholic Church loses an important interlocutor,” said Dayal, adding that Fernandes was a “friend to even his critics.”
Fernandes’ hard work that prompted Gandhi to appoint him as a parliamentary secretary attached to him in December 1984 when he took over as the Prime Minister. The other two were Arun Singh and Ahmed Patel.
Fernandes was then in his first term as Lok Sabha MP from Udupi. He was elected to Lok Sabha five times and elected to Rajya Sabha four times. Having begun his electoral career as a member of the municipal council of Udupi after doing farming for several years, Fernandes became an MP for the first time in 1980 at the age of 39. He was handpicked by Sanjay Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha seat from Udupi.
After Sanjay’s death, he became a close associate and loyalist of Rajiv Gandhi, who first appointed him as one of the joint secretaries to assist him in organisational matters and then made him a parliamentary secretary. “He worked over 18 hours a day… and the dedication impressed Rajiv,” a leader said. “He was unflappable. Never lost his cool… was always smiling and affectionate towards everyone,” a senior leader said.
Rajiv also appointed him as President of Karnataka Congress in 1986.
Although he became an MP in 1980, Fernandes could enter the union council of ministers only in 2004 when was appointed Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. He held the portfolios of Youth Affairs and Sports and Overseas Indian Affairs and Labour and Employment. In 2013, he became a cabinet minister in charge of Road Transport and Highways.