With the sad demise of George Fernandes, the country has lost a firebrand leader, a crusader for the cause of labour and working class and a symbol of resistance of the Emergency.
Born in Mangaluru in 1930.He was drawn to the trade union politics when he was given training for a Roman Catholic priest. He started his political career in Mumbai as a trade union leader. Mumbai for almost two decades remain George’s karma bhoomi.
As a rebel leader, who was always at the forefront to take on the power that be. George fought for the right of industrial laborers working in hotels and restaurants. Working with the Indian Railways during the 50s to 60s, he organized many strikes in the erstwhile Bombay.
He came to limelight after in a nail biting contest defeated veteran Congress leader SK Patil in Mumbai in 1967. He was one of the most key leaders of the socialist movement in the 1970s. George played a major role in organising the nationwide rail workers’ strike in 1974 as the president of All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF). The workers were quite agitated over the poor working conditions and the strike went on for 20 days, bringing the nation to a halt. A staunch critic of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, George strongly opposed her government’s decision to impose emergency and was subsequently arrested in 1976 for allegedly attempting to blow up railway bridges, in what has come to be known as the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy. However, he became the darling of the working class and middle income class for taking on mighty and powerful Indira Gandhi.
He spent the entire period of emergency in jail and was not even released during the 1977 Lok Sabha elections. However, he fought from jail, and won the Muzaffarpur constituency. He became the poster boy of the Janata Party. Besides, he was literally worshipped by a large number of working class and middle income class people for showing courage to strongly take on the mighty and powerful Indira Gandhi. The photograph of George and his fellow accused coming to the prison handcuffed and in chains accompanied by several policemen became a household image during that time.
George was inducted as the minister of industry by the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai. He hogged the headlines after as a minister he forced exit of multinational companies like Coca Cola and IBM following their refusal to dilute their stake in their Indian partners. His tenure as Railways Minister in the VP Singh Cabinet will be remembered for the introduction of the historic Konkan Railway. His first stint in politics was with the Janata Party after the Emergency. He later formed the Samata Party in 1994, which allied with the BJP.
In the Vajpayee government, George was given a crucial Defence ministry. He oversaw the Pokhran nuclear tests which were carried out in 1998 and the Kargil war. However, after the ‘’coffin gate’’ controversy, George had to step down.
HIS FEW QUOTES
“A politician should not be written off till he or she is cremated.”
“One should learn from the past, but one should not live in the past. My concern is to look to the future learn from the past, and deal with the present.’’