With the passing away of George Fernandes an able administrator, a distinguished politician, India has lost a very truthful politician who devoted his life for the nation. He served India in many capacities, including as Defence Minister. He epitomised simple living and high thinking. He remained a visionary railway minister and a great defence minister who made India safe and strong. He was frank, fearless, forthright and farsighted who gave a valuable contribution to India. He was among the most effective voices for the rights of the poor and marginalised. He was one of the most influential of India’s political leaders whose entire life was dedicated to fighting tyranny, oppression, corruption and for the upliftment of deprived sections of our society. One of the iconic images of Emergency is of George Fernandes in shackles; his arms raised high in protest. One of the qualities in him was that he used to speak extemporaneously and with equal flair in English, Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada. His spartan lifestyle was reflected in his mouldy glasses, dishevelled hair, crumpled kurtas, and a pair of inexpensive slippers.
I am reminded one of his eye-catchy statement that he said, “There is nobody who can buy me. I have fought corruption all my life.” PM Modi has rightly treated “Generations of Indians will remain grateful to George Saheb for his historic role in preserving India’s democracy. A people’s person, he distinguished himself as a capable administrator.” He emerged as a hero in the post-Emergency era and became industry minister in the Morarji Desai government.
His role in the post-independence era is indisputable, for he fought for the common citizenry for nearly five decades. On August 15, 1975, Fernandes issued an appeal. He pointed out, “Everyone must by now have realised that you cannot have committee meetings and mutual consultations in the prevailing situation, the president and general secretaries of all the parties are in prison, so are most of the members of the national executives, state executives, even district committees of these parties. Those who have evaded arrest are not easily available.” Despite being a staunch critic of the RSS, he joined the BJP-led NDA government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 and 1999, in which he was appointed the defense minister. Under his stewardship, India fought the Kargil war in 1999. It was also during his tenure that India conducted a nuclear test at Pokhran in 1998.
George was a natural face to fight Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. He was arrested for hatching the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy, which he had organised to throw out Indira’s government. In VP Singh’s cabinet in 1989, he marked his legacy as railways minister by introducing the historic Konkan Railway, along with the then finance minister Madhu Dandavate.
Today we have lost a stalwart of India’s socialist movement but he will always be remembered as a man of rare caliber and a great leader. His battles for equality, democracy, and human rights and against all forms of injustice will always be remembered.