India loses a Leader par Excellence
India loses a Leader par Excellence | Credit: Hindustan Times

India loses a Leader par Excellence

Jan 30, 2019

George Fernandes, India's former Defense Minister and one of the revolutionary leaders of 1970s breathed his last on Tuesday, in Delhi, after a prolonged illness. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, a few years ago and was recently struck with swine flu. The octogenarian had held the country's Defense ministry portfolio from 1998 to 2004, under the NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has also been responsible for the departments of communication, industry and railways at different time periods.

Sadly, the last days of the 88-year-old socialist politician and heroic force of the Emergency, 1975 were extremely tragic. He was placed under the care of his divorced wife and his son, Sean with whom he had parted ways a few decades ago. After a long struggle, his brothers and a few of his closest associates were allowed to meet him. Unfortunately, it was too late when they met George. The firebrand leader was in a weakened state and was unable to recognize or interact with them. His breath slowly ebbed away on 29th of January, 2019 leaving a huge impact on the social and political leadership of India.

What the other leaders tweeted?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his condolences in twitter. He has marked Fernandes as one of the most effective voices which spoke for the empowerment of the poor and marginalised. Being frank and fearless, forthright and farsighted, the lion-hearted leader has played a predominant role in channelising Indian politics.

Congress party leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Randeep Surjewala have condoled the sudden passing away of the founder of Samata party.

A leader par excellence

George Fernandes was born in Mangalore, Karnataka to Roman catholic parents in 1930. He was put under the tutorship of a missionary to become a Catholic priest until he ran to Bombay and got in contact with his mentor Placid d Mello whose ideals created a life-long impact on the young rebel.  

First impact: Plunging himself into the socialist trade and union movement in Bombay, he created a formidable force of Bombay Taxi Union, in 1949, which spoke about the rights of the working community.

Victory in Lok Sabha polls 1967: It was the time when the commercial capital of the country, Bombay was dominated by Congress men like S. K. Patil. With his fearless attitude and inexhaustible energy, the coastal boy of Karnataka managed to win the parliamentary elections against Patil.

Railway strike: In 1974, the rebellious politician led a Railway strike under the banner of All India Railwaymen's federation which turned the mob against the central government lead by Indira Gandhi

He was later arrested in Baroda, by Indira Gandhi government for opposing Emergency and using Dynamite sticks to provoke violence in the state.

In 1977, he was offered a ministry by Janata Party but agreed only after a group of angry supporters persuaded him to take up the offer. He forced the exit of the US based companies Coco Cola and IBM.

Railway Minister: Through sheer determination and relentless power, he became the Railway Minister under V.P Singh's government. He promoted Konkan Railway projects.

Defense Minister: Fernandes played a crucial role in Kargil war 1998 and Pokhran nuclear tests. He is popular for paying visits to Siachen glacier to meet the attacked soldiers.

While serving as a Defense minister, he was accused of being involved in a scam but was later absolved of the offense.

After 2004, the power of the Fernandes began to decline and he lost the Lok sabha elections. The name which stood as an inspiration to many, especially during Indira Gandhi's emergency, faded and he became bedridden as infections overpowered the determination.

George Fernandes, an astounding politician of India, breathed his last, leaving the footprints for thousands of politicians who are yet to come.