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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 8 New Delhi February 9, 2019

Demise of George Fernandes

Sunday 10 February 2019



Born in Karnataka, George Fernandes will always be remembered as one of the Mohicans of the anti-Emergency movement in India. His historic leadership in the nationwide rail strike made him an icon of the Indian working class movement, especially among the Indian railwaymen constituting the world’s largest public sector unit. He was one of the first to be arrested by the Indira Gandhi Government when the Emergency was declared on and from June 26, 1975. He was arrested on that day at 4 am from the Guest House of Kolkata’s St. Paul’s Church. His roommate was Vijayan Pavamani, a well-known NGO philanthropist and an advisor to The Statesman. As a matter of fact, this newspaper faced tremendous wrath of the Indira Gandhi Government during the infamous Emergency period.

Fernandes was elected from the Muzaffarpur Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar in 1977 while in jail and won by a thumping majority of nearly four lakh notes. After being sworn in as the Industry Minister, he drove his private Fiat car straight to the Ministry in New Delhi and enquired from a chaprasi where the chamber of the Minister was. In 1989, he was given the portfolio of Railway Minister in the V.P. Singh Government. But within a few months Fernandes became disgruntled and proposed to form a National Government and came to Kolkata to meet Jyoti Basu with a request to head his proposed outfit. [At this time there was a possibility of his appointment as an interlocutor to hold talks with the alienated Kashmiris and militants in Kashmir but eventually, that did not happen. —Editor]

During his tenure in the Vajpayee Government, he was the Chairman of the BJP-led NDA. He joined the month-long dharna of Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata in 2006 to offer his support to the anti-SEZ movement. Soon after, he became seriously ill and lived almost like a vegetable in the last decade of his life. His critics had often accused him of having close relations with the Western powers and during his tenure as the Defence Minster in the Vajpayee Government he openly declared that China, not Pakistan, was our main enemy. He was elected nine times to the Lok Sabha and once to the Rajya Sabha.

Samit Kar

Kolkata 700 106

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