By George, there will be none like him!
Another great leader George Fernandes, a socialist to the core whose role in the postindependence era is indisputable is no more He was a man who fought for the masses and the workers for over five decades He was a frank and fearless leader and had made valuable contribution to the country H
Another great leader George Fernandes, a socialist to the core whose role in the post-independence era is indisputable is no more. He was a man who fought for the masses and the workers for over five decades. He was a frank and fearless leader and had made valuable contribution to the country. He has been a fighter all through his life and was a friend of poor and marginalised. In his death the country has lost an excellent orator. His command over several languages was praiseworthy.
As a teenager he spent nights on roadside benches and ate at Udupi hotels for free in Mangalore. The owners of those hotels got angry with him as he started organising exploited hotel employees to fight against injustice. Then he decided to move to Mumbai.
During his initial days in Mumbai, the former Defence Minister was involved with people’s issues. Fernandes came in contact with Mumbai’s legendary trade union leader D’Mello and started organising textile mill workers. In 1967 Lok Sabha elections, Fernandes defeated the mighty SK Patil from South Bombay and created history.
He had gone down on railway tracks to stop the trains during the 1974 railway strike which had created a history because never before and never after there was a such a strike in railways. He was arrested for hatching the Baroda Dynamite case alleging that he had conspired to throw out Indira Gandhi’ government.
He was a man who had the courage to state that ‘anything was justified to save democracy.’ As a result, he had to spend the entire period of Emergency in jail. But the love for him among people was so strong that when he contested the Lok Sabha elections from jail from Muzaffarpur constituency he won with a landslide margin and he became the poster boy of Janata Party.
As minister he left his socialist stamp by banning Coke and that helped in the birth of Thums Up in India. When asked about it, he said: “People keep saying that I threw out Coke but I was well within law to ask them about the formula they were so secretive about. The Indian legislation stated that in such a situation I could either ask them to go out or dilute their equity to 49 per cent and they opted for the first.”
As Railway minister in V P Singh’s cabinet in 1989-90 he introduced the historic Konkan Railway. He was a person who used to take decisions on the spot. Fernandes was addressing the media on the occasion of anti-corruption week in Railways at Press Information Bureau in New Delhi when as an young reporter I asked him how he proposes to control corruption in his ministry when even senior officers were asking for a bribe of Rs 500 to clear a letter to send newspaper parcels at concessional rates. Fernandes looked at me asked which newspaper I was representing and said leave it to me. The next day a team of officials from CBI landed in my office seeking my help and the officer was caught red handed.
His house on Krishna Menon Marg in Lutyen’s Delhi was a landmark. He was such a simple person that he used to walk from his house to Parliament at least once a week. He never liked to have any kind of security at his house and was easily accessible to all. It was only after the 2001 attack on Parliament house security was posted there.
Later Fernandes served as Defence Minister for two terms, from 1998-2001 and then from 2001-2004. His first term was eventful as it witnessed the Kargil war and first Pokhran test. After a long journey of 40 years in politics, Fernandes slowly faded away from public memory after 2010, debilitated by Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s. Hope the present day politicians, at least the young leaders will take a leaf out of his life and show the determination to serve the people with the kind of fire he had in his belly.