"If there is a rebirth, I would like to be reborn as a Vietnamese," George Fernandes had once said. Addressing the annual conference of Karnataka Planters' Association fifteen years ago in Bengaluru when he was the defence minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet, Fernandes described the Vietnamese as "a disciplined, committed and determined lot".
Observing that Vietnam had a large share of the world coffee market, he said, "I am not grudging that; I am an admirer of Vietnam" and heaped praise on the Southeast Asian country and its people for their rapid progress. "If there is a rebirth, I would like to be reborn as a Vietnamese", Fernandes, who was born in Manguluru, said.
"They are ready to die for their commitment." Fernandes had said he was India's first defence minister to have visited Vietnam. He noted that three million Vietnamese had been killed in conflicts with the US, France and China.
According to him, the country was leaving India behind in per capita income. "After all the devastation that Vietnam had to go through... none that we (India) had to go through in recent years," the veteran socialist said.
He cited Vietnam as an example as to how a country can be determined and innovative and think 100 years ahead. Fernandes passed away Tuesday after a prolonged illness.
BJP veteran LK Advani had called him remarkable rebel leader. "If there were no rebels, the country wouldn't have gained Independence. Rebel leaders like George should keep coming up so that the country can progress and develop," Advani had said during the inauguration the website -- georgefernandes.org in June last year.
The former defence minister died following a prolonged illness on Tuesday. Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and recently, he contracted swine flu, family sources said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the demise of the socialist leader, saying he was frank and fearless, and never deviated from his ideology.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi expressed his condolences to Fernandes' family and friends. Fernandes was India's defence minister in the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was the industry minister under the Jan Sangh government which had defeated Indira Gandhi in 1977.