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When George Fernandes called China India’s enemy No.1, sparked controversy

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New Delhi, Jan 29: George Fernandes, one of the most firebrand politicians independent India has seen, passes away on Tuesday, January 29, after a prolonged ailment. The 88-year-old leader was away from active politics for quite some time and eventually breathed his last in Delhi.

When George Fernandes called China India’s enemy No.1, sparked controversy

Serving as India's defence minister in two terms (March 1998-March 2001 & October 2001-May 04) in the era of Atal Behari Vajpayee, Fernandes had made some significant impact.

George Fernandes: The firebrand leader who had packed Coca Cola off from IndiaGeorge Fernandes: The firebrand leader who had packed Coca Cola off from India

He had not only taken special care for the Indian soldiers fighting at the gigantic heights of Siachen, one of the world's most hostile places, but also sparked controversy with his viewpoints.

Less than six weeks after taking charge as the defence minister in 1998, the Lohiaite leader had called China as India's No.1 threat. Two decades ago, that statement had rocked the Indian defence and foreign policy establishments and pushed the two countries' relation to a new low.

Fernandes, 68 then, had cited China's backing Pakistan and Myanmar and also adopting a policy of encirclement against India and stockpiling nuclear weapons in Tibet near India's border as basis of his conviction.

He kept up the offensive even after having a talk with the visiting People's Liberation Army chief and appreciating China's "seriousness" in resolving bilateral issues through dialogue.

In an interview to veteran journalist Karan Thapar, Fernandes had opined that it was not in India's interest to overlook problems with China. His comments, made just days ahead of the Pokhran II tests, were seen as particularly discomforting for the Indian establishment.

China reacted to him saying his viewpoint was "ridiculous and unworthy of refutation" while even in India, there were not many people who had backed the leader's stand.

The life and times of George FernandesThe life and times of George Fernandes

Gujral had called Fernandes an 'adventurist' defence minister

Former prime minister IK Gujral had called him an "adventurist" defence minister. Even Vajpayee was criticised for taking a "low-key approach" to foreign policy which Gujral felt was encouraging Fernandes to go that extra mile.

Fernandes though had later denied calling China India's No.1 enemy in 2003, the same year when Vajpayee had made a historic visit to Beijing for improving relations with the neighbour.

What Fernandes would have said had he been in active politics when India and China locked horns over Doklam?

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