His Holiness the Dalai Lama with former Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes during a function in Bangalore, Januar 17, 2008. Photo: Getty Images

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Dharamshala, India — The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote to Shrimati Leila Kabir this morning to express his sadness at the passing away of his old friend George Fernandes. He offered his condolences to her and the members of her family. Fernandes, 88, passed away early on Tuesday morning after a prolonged illness.

“I had the privilege of knowing him for over five decades,” His Holiness wrote, adding: “during which time we met regularly, and as you know, I continued to visit him after he retired from active politics.

“I admired him greatly because he dedicated himself to what he believed in, no matter how difficult the situation was. George was a great humanitarian and believer in truth," His Holiness wrote in the letter said, saying "Throughout his life, his was a voice for the millions of poor and needy people of the country. He had a firm conviction in justice and wisdom. He was a real heroic leader."

“He was a steady friend who was sympathetic to· the Tibetan cause right from the beginning. He never missed an opportunity to speak up for the Tibetan people as well as for others in a similar situation," His Holiness said.

“Although George and I belong to different religious traditions, as a Buddhist I am confident he will be reborn again to serve his country and in particular the cause of the underprivileged,” the Tibetan leader stated.

The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate ended his letter with prayers for his late friend and the declaration that he would always remember him.

Born on June 3, 1930, Fernandes was a former trade unionist, politician, journalist, agriculturist, and member of Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He was a key member of the Janata Dal and the founder of the Samata Party. His last stint as a parliamentarian was as a Rajya Sabha MP between August 2009 and July 2010. Apart from being a Parliamentarian, Mr Fernandes also held ministerial portfolios such as defence, communications, industry, and railways.