George Fernandes began his political career as a trade unionist and fought pitched battles against hotel and mill owners for the rights of labourers. His fighting spirits made him popular amongst the working classes.
THE 1977 poster of 47-year-old George Fernandes holding up his handcuffed hands from behind the prison bars still remains the most indelible image of the firebrand socialist. Today, he is a pale shadow of his former self and this controversial figure of the history is leaving behind some skeletons in his cup boards that would not rest even when he goes for final resting. How anyone could forget the sacking of Admiral Bhagwat, Tehelkaa — cash for arms, hob-nobbing with ultras of all brands. The socialist leader is suffering from a debilitating disease and should be allowed to live a life of dignity and should be allowed to die with dignity when the call visits.
He was born in 1930, in Mangalore, Karnataka. After his schooling in Mangalore, his father sent him to seminary near Mangalore, to train as a priest. Priesthood was not the cup of his tea. He found the environment of seminary suffocating because he ‘witnessed strange things that he could not accept. He hails from the Mangalorean Catholic community.
He began his political career as a trade unionist and fought pitched battles against hotel- and mill- owners for the rights of labourers. His fighting spirits made him popular amongst the working classes but he had to face the wrath of hotel and mill owners. He came into limelight when he contested for the 1967 general elections against the politically powerful and Sadashiv Kanoji Patil in Mumbai on SSP ticket. S K Patil, was a seasoned politician, with two decades of experience behind him. Fernandes won against S K Patil by garnering 48.5 per cent of the votes.
Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975.
All fundamental rights were suspended. Political dissidents, newspaper reporters, opposition leaders who opposed emergency were jailed. A warrant was issued in against Fernandes and he went underground to escape arrest. In June 1976, he was finally arrested on charges of smuggling dynamite to blow up government establishments in protest against the imposition of emergency, in what came to be known as Baroda Dynamite conspiracy case.
After the emergency was lifted, general elections were held in India. The Congress Party suffered a defeat at the hands of the Janata Party coalition. The Janata Party and its allies came to power, headed by Morarji Desai. George Fernandes was appointed as the Union Minister for Industries after being elected to Parliament from Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
In a debate preceding a vote of confidence he spoke out against the practice of permitting Vajpayee and Advani to retain connections to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh while being in the ministry the issue of ‘dual membership’. It caused Morarji Desai to lose the vote of confidence.
After the dissolution of the Charan Singh ministry, he retained his Parliamentary seat from Muzaffarpur and sat in the opposition from 1980 to 1984. He contested for the Lok Sabha in 1984 from Bangalore North against future Railway Minister CK Jaffer Sharief and lost the election. He then decided to shift his base to Bihar, which was already the haunt of his political guru, Ram Manohar Lohia and friend Madhu Limaye and has continuously represented either Muzaffarpur or Nalanda since the 1989 general elections.
It requires volumes to write his life adventures. To make it short I shall bring the reader to a sorry week he has passed.
Today, those closest to him are fighting openly over his affection and property. His estranged wife Leila has marched back into his life, to protect him from what she called the ‘coterie’. Jaya Jaitly is also there to make certain claims. His brother Richard Fernandez and Co are exuding the love and concern that is exemplary. Their tug of war has been as now reaching a photo-finish. The fire-band has been reduced as a pathetic tamasha for public. Further indignity was heaped upon him when he was summoned by the court on Monday ‘to ascertain what he wants’.
I don’t know how many deaths he is dying in his life today!