NEW DELHI: In the spring of 2009, as the Congress party was getting ready to face the national elections, party president Sonia Gandhi had conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that some ministers are required to join the organisation.
The first name in the list was Oscar Fernandes, a soft-mannered politician holding the charge of the Union minister of labour and employment. It was apparently surprising as Fernandes neither had the political skill of someone like Kamal Nath nor a grip on electoral management like Pranab Mukherjee or Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Fernandes, who died on Monday at the age of 80, was a diligent backroom man. Someone who would work daily for 16-17 hours in the background to help the party get battle-ready. Senior Congress leader BK Hariprasad remembers, “When he was working in the party, the AICC office wouldn’t close before 3am.”
At the time of his death, Fernandes was admitted to a private hospital in Karnataka’s Mangaluru due to age-related ailments. “We are deeply saddened by the demise of Shri Oscar Fernandes ji, our heartfelt condolences to his family. A Congress stalwart, his vision for an inclusive India had a huge influence on the politics of our times. The Congress family will deeply miss his mentorship & guidance,” tweeted the Congress.
Expressing his condolences, PM Narendra Modi said, “Saddened by the demise of Rajya Sabha MP Shri Oscar Fernandes Ji. In this sad hour, my thoughts and prayers are with his family and well-wishers. May his soul rest in peace.”