His death is mourned by compatriots who have worked alongside him for four decades, while he held portfolios of communications, industry
Fernandes’s career is one for the textbooks, with contributions that date back to the era of active trade unionism, the rise of the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) in the 1960s, and a split in the right-wing coalition over Hindutva politics post-Emergency.
A staunch opposer of the Emergency, he even has an Indian Railways-led strike to his credit, besides a Wikileaks mention for trying to procure CIA’s help in overthrowing Indira Gandhi’s regime in the early ’70s.
Born in Mangalore, Karnataka in 1930, Fernandes was the eldest of five siblings and was supposedly named after King George V of the British empire. He is believed to have groomed himself in Bombay’s
Shortly after he met socialists Placid D’Mello and Ram Manohar Lohia, Fernandes contested and won South Bombay for SSP in the 1967 Lok Sabha polls, eventually becoming the leader of the party. This was a career-changing move because
In Maharashtra, he constantly fought for workers’ rights, drivers, government employees, at times in association with other regional outfits like Shiv Sena. He
Fiercely independent, Fernandes was also involved in the Baroda Dynamite Case of 1976, and as a ruthless proponent of local trade, he banished MNC’s like IBM and Coca Cola in 1977 while serving as industry minister under the brief Janata Dal regime.
Tricky to describe
Many critics and historians have come to regard Fernandes as “an unprincipled political operator,” in view of certain diametrically opposite stances he adopted after returning as a Union Minister two decades later.
For example, in the ’70s, he had opposed Vajpayee and Advani’s alliance with the RSS-led Jan Sangh, which later became the BJP. The Janata coalition cracked after they refused to shed their RSS membership, with several leaders like Nitish Kumar and Fernandes himself, founding their own parties.
By the time, Vajpayee assumed power at the
Despite his fallout with Nitish Kumar, who had co-founded the Samata Party in 1994, the Chief Minister of Bihar broke down while paying tribute to his former colleague on Tuesday. The duo had parted ways when Kumar founded his Janata Dal (United) but in 2003, Fernandes merged Samata Party with Kumar’s JD(U).
Remembering Fernandes, Kumar said, “A new party was formed under his leadership and guidance. His guidance has always taught us a lot. His vision has always influenced the way we work for people today.”
“Given his condition, his death is a kind of deliverance for him. It would be my resolve not to forget his guidance and his fight for the rights of the people,” Kumar said.
When we think of Mr. George Fernandes, we remember most notably the fiery trade union leader who fought for justice, the leader who could humble the mightiest of politicians at the hustings, a visionary Railway Minister and a great Defence Minister who made India safe and strong.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 29, 2019
During his long years in public life, George Sahab never deviated from his political ideology. He resisted the Emergency tooth and nail. His simplicity and humility were noteworthy. My thoughts are with his family, friends and lakhs of people grieving. May his soul rest in peace.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 29, 2019
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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