Leaders cutting across party lines condoled the death of former defence minister and socialist stalwart George Fernandes, who passed away on Tuesday following a prolonged illness. Fernandes was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a few years. He contracted swine flu recently.President Ram Nath Kovind described George Fernandes as a “champion of democracy” in a tweet condoling his passing away. President Kovind said, “Distressed to learn of the passing of George Fernandes, who served India in many capacities, including as Defence Minister. He epitomised simple living and high thinking. And was a champion of democracy, during the Emergency and beyond. We will all miss him.”BJP president Amit Shah recalled the former defence minister’s “fierce opposition to the emergency in 1975” while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee remembered her as “much admired trade unionist” whereas Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Facebook to express his condolences over the demise of George Fernandes in New Delhi.“Anguished to learn about the demise of George Fernandes ji. His political persona left an indelible mark on several significant political events over decades. He also held several important ministerial portfolios in the Union cabinet over time. His stint in public offices saw him make some defining changes, particularly Railways. The most abiding memories of Fernandes ji are those of his fierce opposition to the emergency in 1975. He stood steadfastly to protect India’s democratic values,” said Amit Shah.Expressing his condolences, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said, “I’m sorry to hear about the passing away of former Parliamentarian & Union Minister, George Fernandes Ji. My condolences to his family and friends in this time of grief.”Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala took to Twitter to condole the demise of the former parliamentarian. “My condolences on the passing away of former Union Minister, Sh George Fernandes. May his soul rest in peace,” he tweeted.Paying tribute to the 88-year-old former defence minister and a cabinet colleague in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Mamata Banerjee said, “Very saddened at the passing away of former defence minister and much admired trade unionist, George Fernandes Ji. I have known him for decades. My condolences to his family and admirers.”Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recalled George Fernandes as a “visionary railway minister”. PM Modi said, “Frank and fearless, forthright and farsighted, he made a valuable contribution to our country. He was among the most effective voices for the rights of the poor and marginalised.”George Fernandes was the defence minister in the NDA government headed by Vajpayee. He was holding the post when India conducted nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998 and fought the Kargil war in 1999. He first became a Union minister in 1997 in the first non-Congress government at the Centre under Janata Party leader Morarji Desai, who became the prime minister when the Congress party of Indira Gandhi was defeated in the parliamentary elections held after lifting of the Emergency. The Indira Gandhi government had imposed Emergency in 1975. Fernandes rose prominence in pre-Emergency protests as a trade union leader. He was the industry minister in the Janata Party government.