-By Arkabrata Bala
The former defence minister and senior Janta Dal leader, George Fernandes breathed his last on Tuesday. He was at the age of 88. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s malady as his family sources said and had contracted swine flu recently, they said. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi condoled his demise and so did other cabinet ministers, namely Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, and Governor Swaraj. Congress President, Rahul Gandhi empathetically expressed his remorse over the loss of the noted socialist leader.
Fernandes was the defence minister during the tenure of late Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1988 and 2004. Apart from that, he had held several other ministerial posts including Communications, Industry and Railways. The former trade union leader was out of public life for a decade allegedly because of his ailments. The stalwart was the founder of the Samanta Party when he was a senior Janta Dal leader.
Born in 1930, Fernandes came into politics in 1970 and gained prominence when he was arrested during the vehement protest at the time of emergency declared by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi in 1975. This man had the staunchest temperament to revert back and never shied away from speaking out his mind. His posters behind the bars tell us that the suppression imposed by the Indira Gandhi government couldn’t succumb him to submission during the Lok Sabha polls in 1977.
One of the notable protests led by him which had brought the railway organization to a conspicuous standstill was in 1974. Being the leader of All India Railway Federation at the time, he was the foremost influential amongst the railway employees. Almost 1.7 million of them barred from turning up for work for 20 days. Marred by these incidents, Gandhi had ensured to put them behind bars, at least thousand of miscreants.
His popularity didn’t dim a bit but ensured his first electoral victory in 1977 when Fernandes won Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar. Moraji Desai had but no choice to make him the Union Minister of Industries, thanks to his overwhelming popularity post-emergency. Like always, he followed the path of socialism which made him order firms like Coca-Cola and IBM to leave India on charges of investment violations. Under Prime Minister, V.P. Singh, he dutifully handled the minister of Railways from 1989 to 1990 and created a remarkable contribution by founding the inception of the Konkan Railway line.
As a defence minister, Fernandes achieved pertinent heights. He led the Pokhran nuclear tests and the 1999 Kargil war which after lasting for around two months brought victory to the nation. The nuclear tests somewhat rattled the then US government but it banked India as a nuclear power.
Born to John Joseph Fernandes and Alice Martha Fernandes on June 3, 1930, in Mangaluru, George Fernandes later moved to Mumbai in 1949. Although Kannadiga by birth, his politics was deeply rooted in Bihar.
Some noteworthy facts about George Fernandes
- One of the most memorable tales in the political fraternity is his resentment towards accepting personal security. Despite being an important member of the portfolio, he refused it citing reasons of gratuitous strain on capital by the cavalcade.
- Fernandes quit as defence minister after charges of the allegation were levelled against him. He was accused of corruption in the purchase of coffins for the armed forces which Fernandes remarked as false. However eventually, he was exculpated of all the charges by two inquiring commissions.