Woke up to the news of the demise of a nationalist leader like George Fernandes.
If I had to describe one of India’s finest political leaders, who saw himself as an Indian first and then as a Christian, it would be a ‘rebel’.
He rebelled against his father’s desire, who wanted to make him a lawyer, because he did not agree with his father’s unfair practices.
He rebelled against the Church, when he decided to not continue his priestly vocation after he felt that the seminarians were treated unfairly when compared to the priests.
It was this rebellious trait that helped him brave those struggling days in Mumbai and led him to become the key face of the Bombay Labour Movement in the early 1950s.
He was committed to the cause of the unions and even went to prison for his fight for fair play to the people, who turned to the trade unions to find solutions to their plight.
I remember reading about a strike he had organised when he was the president of the All India Railwaysmen’s Federation, where he fought for the grievances and the upliftment of the standard of living of railway workers; that were pent up for decades due poor socio-economic status. The strike in 1974 brought the entire nation to a standstill.
To me to the most memorable, commendable and admirable ’rebellion’ of George Fernandes was against the draconian, cruel and undemocratic act of the Late Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi – ‘Emergency’.
In the then government’s search of George Fernandes, his brother Lawrence, was arrested and tortured to reveal his whereabouts. The search led to George Fernandes and many political leaders who fought the Emergency to go underground.
He was finally arrested but never chargesheeted in the ‘Baroda Dynamite Case’ which happened during the Emergency.
Yet another trait of his rebellious and completely different thought process to his social and political works is that in 1977, he fought the Lok Sabha elections from Muzaffarpur, Bihar and won by over 3,00,000 lakh votes while he was still in jail due the ‘Baroda Dynamite Case’.
Let me tell you why this amazing to comprehend is because here you have a young lad from Mangalore who roughed it up in the means streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) and then he went to even meaner streets of Bihar. That in itself is such a herculean task because he never visited his constituency.
Even as a Union Minister of Industries he was instrumental in ensuring that the FERA Act be implemented. He even took on multinational giants such as IBM and Coca Cola at that time.
He was the driving force behind the Konkan Railway project when he was the Union Railways Minister.
He is also considered to be one of the finest defence minister of the nation.
You could argue about the failure on the intelligence agencies to detect intrusion which could have altered the outcome of the Kargil War or even Operation Vijay but he stood rock solid by the intelligence agencies and never considered it a failure of the agencies.
He was the defence minister under whose leadership India tested its nuclear capability in Pokhran.
Tehelka scandal got him to resign from the Ministry of Defence. His name featured in the Operation West End which was a sting operation against Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly on defence deal kickbacks.
CBI also filed an FIR against him over the Barack Missile scandal.
He was also accused in the Coffin scam but was later cleared of all charges.
George Fernandes was a political leader who spoke his mind, like openly calling out China as ‘India’s Enemy Number One’.
I am not saying that the person George Fernandes whose political life did not have any uncomfortable questions, of course he did, like allegations of links with CIA and the French government during the time of the emergency. The closeness he shared with an CIA-funded NGO Amnesty International who fought vehemently for his release during the Emergency period.
But having said all that, he was a man that was governed by his own thoughts of what India should be and he was a nationalist to the core.
He wanted to see a Better India and a Behtar India.
He was a fighter. He was someone who never gave up and was as man that followed his heart.
India has lost one of its finest political leaders from the Christian community.
He is an example for many from all communities (in particular the Christian community. From him we should learn that nation is above all.
My adieu to you Mr George Fernandes!