The veteran national leader, who was popularly known as the ‘uncrowned king’ of the then Bombay, George Fernandes was unwell and bedridden for the last few years, passed away on Tuesday morning in New Delhi. However, his first shot into national prominence was when he defeated Congress stalwart S K Patil in the 1967 parliamentary elections at the very beginning of his political career. Fernandes later earned a sobriquet of “George the Giant Killer”.
MNS State Secretary Pramod Patil stated, “George Fernandes changed the entire direction of the Indian Politics. Leaders of his caliber are very few in the political arena. He set an example about how one can lead a political life. No political leader can touch to his stature without any political background; he rose in politics and continued his life journey extraordinarily. He was the leader who was utterly concerned about social problems. He was an Institution in himself. As a staunch socialist, the work he did at grass root level was just astonishing and inspiration for next generations. He was the one who remained steadfast about his ideology amidst his opponents. As Mumbai was the epicentre of his political journey, he should be felicitated as ‘Maharashtra Bhushan’.”
Fernandes was a senior Janta Dal leader and one of the very prominent leaders of the socialist movement in 1970s before founding the Samata Party. At the time of the Defense Ministry, nuclear inspection was succeeded under the inspection of George. He was the one who passed the legislation where the government handovers the dead bodies of the Kargil martyrs to their respective house.
Socialist Leader Subodh More commented, “Fernandes emerged as a strong labour leader in the 60s and 70s who fought ardently for their welfare and rights. He was closely connected with general public across the nation and never limited himself to any geographical boundaries. He lived modestly throughout his tenure as minister and wore simple khadi clothes. Fernandes was the only one who opposed the then RSS. He and Madhu Limaye were instrumental in the splitting of the Janta Party.”
George Fernandes was born on June 3, 1930, in Mangaluru. Even before entering into politics he had made his name as a powerful trade union leader and later, he finally became a member of Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He was a rare politician who lived with no greed of gatherings. During his first tenure as MP, Fernandes set up a Doordarshan Kendra, Kanti Thermal Power Station and the Lijjat papad factory to generate employment in Muzaffarpur. Fernandes also insisted on women empowerment. In November 2014, Kanti Thermal Power Station was renamed as George Fernandes Thermal Power Station (GFTPS). In condolence to striking personality, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “George Sahab represented the best of India’s political leadership. Frank and fearless, forthright and farsighted, he made a valuable contribution to our country. He was among the most effective voices for the rights of the poor and marginalised. Saddened by his passing away.”
George Fernandes became the hero of the Emergency. He was even jailed during the 1975 Emergency emposed by Indira Gandhi-led Congress government for what was dubbed as the “Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy” to blow up the government establishments and the railway tracks. He contested the 1977 election from jail and won the Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar by a landslide. In a conversation with AV, President of Indian Federation of Working Journalist K Vikram Rao reminiscted his memories and asserted, “In July 1975, I met Fernandes in Baroda and later became good friends. Both of us opposed the emergency and discussed on what could be done to topple the autocratic Indira Gandhi Government.”
He further added, “After a point of time we started broadcasting news on radio and sharing articles, posters, pamphlets and used other forms of communication to awaken the citizens. During all these protests we decided to go underground and continued protesting against the emergency declared by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The greatest thing about Fernandes is that, he was a very fearless and purely socialist leader who invested his whole life for the betterment of the country and its citizens. He had influenced many aspiring leaders across the country.”
Apart from his active role in politics, Fernandes was interested in writing and journalism in his young age. He worked as the editor of a Konkani language monthly called Konkani Yuvak (Konkani Youth) in 1949, and in the same year, he was also the editor of the Raithavani weekly in Kannada. The Dockman in English that ceased publication had reappeared under the editorship of Fernandes between 1952-1953. He also served as the editor of an English monthly ‘The Other Side’, and the chairman on the editorial board of the Hindi monthly ‘Pratipaksh’.
Fernandes also authored some books on politics which include – What Ails the Socialist (1972), Socialist Communist Interaction in India, In the Year of Disabled: India’s Disabled Government (1981), Dignity for All: Essays on Socialism and Democracy (1991), and his autobiography titled George Fernandes Speaks (1991). Fernandes used to speak 10 languages—Konkani, English, Hindi, Tulu, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Malayalam, and Latin. Konkani was his mother tongue. He learnt Marathi and Urdu in jail and Latin while he was in the seminary in his early youth. He was extremely fluent in Hindi and English.
Fernandes had been a human rights activist, and the member of the Amnesty International, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and the Press Council of India as well. One of the prominent acts he did was that he forced Coca Cola and IBM to exit the country as they refused to dilute their stake in their Indian associates. However, Coke left the country and returned after two decades.
Social Activist Sarita Naik stated, “The journey of George Fernandes had given great strength to the common people. He didn’t only become a leader of the labourer but also influenced the thought of the workers and had given a lesson to the common labourers to fight for their right. George fulfilled many great responsibilities by becoming a member of the Central Ministry. The death of George has caused a huge loss to the country. We will never be able to fulfill the void. He is not a human but an immortal idea that will always be amongst us through his incredible thought. The whole nation is paying homage to the great leader with a teary-eyed. We will always be indebted to him.”
While addressing the annual conference of ‘Karnataka Planters Association’ 15 years ago in Bengaluru, when he was the Defence Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet. Fernandes had described the Vietnamese as “disciplined, committed, and determined a lot, after that he even went ahead and confessed, “If there is a rebirth, I would like to be reborn as a Vietnamese.”
According to the reports, Fernandes’ last rites will be performed on January 30, in New Delhi after his son arrives in India from the United States.