Issue :   
July 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         June 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:May' 2018

SOCIALIST GIANT

No bird to sing for this hero !

Gautam Kaul

The former Defence Minister who accepted no VIP security yet.

Last month George Fernandez turned 88 years. There were no celebrations or hungaamas. A band of about 50 old associates and friends of the veteran, assembled at his Panchsheel Park residence , invited by his wife, Laila Fernandez, to greet his mortal self. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi filed a Tweeter probably reminded by his staff, to remember the erstwhile colleague of his BJP predecessor.

There lay George, flat on his hospital like bed, without feeling more chilled by the efficient air conditioning. His old colleagues moved past him, some muttering birthday greetings, but all quite stunned to see this frail self who was once upon a time a dreaded leader of thousands, whose command washed out resistance of mill owners and State government together. Today he was a silent self felled by the often dreaded ailment Alzheimer’s Disease, made lately famous by the former US President Ronald Reagan and endorsed in symptoms by our very own Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

There is no cure for this ailment yet in the medical world. Reagan’s wife, deeply affected by the stern calling of nursing her husband in his last years, willed the family fortune to create a research foundation to start finding a cure for this ailment. The grants left, are today allowing a band of doctors to map the mind of those afflicted to find out how this wasting disease starts to work inside some aging minds and spares the others.

There lay George, flat on his hospital like bed, without feeling more chilled by the efficient air conditioning. His old colleagues moved past him, some muttering birthday greetings, but all quite stunned to see this frail self who was once upon a time a dreaded leader of thousands, whose command washed out resistance of mill owners and State government together.


In India the doctors advise the family to take care of the creature comforts of the afflicted patient and wait for the final call. In some case it can take years on end, until the financial resources of the family are all drained out.

In George’s case it is already four years ago since he was felled by a stroke which turned on the alternate aging disease while he was still recuperating.

George Fernadez in his childhood did not show any inclination that he would be closing his books as one of the best labour leaders of post Independence era.

Born in Mangaluru on 3rd June 1930, to devoted Roman Catholic parents of uncertain economic means, he shared the company of five siblings. He got an education in charity and decided as he grew up to take a career in music. The local church needed an organist, and when he applied for the existing vacancy , he was called in to lead the music at the daily Mass. George perhaps possessed an over energetic mind, and his first calling proved to be too dull. He unfrocked himself in the service of his God, and moved to Bombay to seek his luck.


Dalai Lama visits George Fernández
Once in the commercial capital of the country, George found he was one of the millions of unemployed who slept on pavements or on street benches. He also found he had a gift of the gab and he joined the crowd which also had starters like Madhu Limaye, Datta Samant, and Mrinal Gore, who came a few years later.

George begun as a loader in the Bombay Municipal Corporation and joined the labour union as a lay member. His talent as a labour mobiliser soon caught the attention of the trade union leaders of the day. George Fernandez was assigned new responsibilities in the labour unions of BEST in Municipal Transport and Electricity supply organisation of Bombay, as leaders planned strategies and strikes to bargain for better wages and labour welfare.

When the Internal Emergency was promulgated, in June 1975, George Fernandez was one of the leaders to be picked up and put behind bars. The nation soon learnt that Fernandez was planning a major incident which the press branded as the Baroda Dynamite Case.


Those were the days of high socialism beliefs and union members soon discovered that when George took up cudgles on their behalf, he remained pure in heart and steadfast to his word. By 1963, George Fernandez was leading a labour force in Bombay exceeding five lakhs in strength, which took commands from George’s little finger. Bombay moved, because George decided it should. And when he called for a halt, no army or police could shake out the workers from their homes to go to their working benches. By 1974, George had also taken over the leadership of most of Railway unions through a nation wide strike in May 1974.

Such a man could not be left unattended in the streets of the commercial capital and when the Internal Emergency was promulgated, in June 1975, George was one of the leaders to be picked up and put behind bars. The nation soon learnt that George Fernandez was planning a major incident which the press branded as the Baroda Dynamite Case. George felt his action would be in favour of protecting Democracy.

Indira Gandhi and her colleagues saw it differently. She feared the caged ‘lion’ and sought to discredit him even with a fiction from some thin evidence. George’s arrest had come nearly six month into the Internal Emergency.

Post-Emergency, when the Congress government was laid flat at the Centre, George was now called to take his share in political powers. He proved to be a reluctant bride. But he did accepted briefly some ministerial roles. As Railway Minister, he introduced the kullarh tea cup( Indian variety of earthenware) service at railway platforms, to revive the village pottery and he introduced many labour welfare schemes which waited attention for decades.

Much later (almost two decades later in 1998), when he was assigned the defense portfolio under the Vajpayee Government, he endeared to the Army jawans by meeting them repeatedly in the Siachin region still in his cotton wear. During the Kargil war, George Fernandez suffered ignominy for his handling of the coffin import cases.

From 1977 onward, George Fernandez started the fashion of winning the Lok Sabha elections while still sitting in jail. He thus displayed the hold on his electorate and justified the cliché attached to him that he was a ‘giant killer’. He was an important functionary of the Socialist Party of India and could be termed as one of the foremost leaders of the socialist movement in the country.

Somewhere in the early 1980s he met Leila Kabir who insisted that he also lead a married life and be looked after. This was not much of a marriage as George said , he was married to a national cause. But disease and over work both have taken their toll, and Laila is left to tend to him. She has in fact closed her establishment in America to be with her ailing husband in need of personal care. Little can George appreciate the toil that is there to keep him as comfortable as can be. He stares at the ceiling in the vegetable state with no sensation in his mind to touch.

Even the world, for which he fought so hard, seems to have forgotten him. No bird sings for him.