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Biography

Politics & War

Politics & War

George Fernandes

George Fernandes

 

EARLY LIFE

 

  • George Fernandes was born on 3 June 1930 to John Joseph Fernandes and Alice Martha Fernandes , in Mangalore to a Mangalorean Catholic family.The eldest of six children.
  • His father was employed by the Peerless Finance group as an insurance executive, and headed their office of South India for several years.
  • He attended his first few years of schooling at a government school near his house called “Board school”, a municipal school and a church school.
 EARLY LIFE

 

  • He studied from fifth grade at the school attached to St. Aloysius College, Mangalore, where he completed his Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC).
  • He was instead enrolled in a seminary for studies to become a priest.He went to St Peter’s Seminary in Bangalore at the age of 16, to be trained as a Roman Catholic priest, studying philosophy for two and a half years from 1946 to 1948.
  • At the age of 19, he left the seminary due to sheer frustration.Though he was born in a Christian family, he rejected religion, ran away from the seminary, and he was a practising freethinker.
  • He began work at the age of 19, organising exploited workers in the road transport industry and in the hotels and restaurants in Mangalore
THE RISING

 

  • After leaving the seminary, Fernandes moved to Bombay in 1949 in search of a job. His life was tough in Bombay, and he had to sleep on the streets, until he got a job as a proofreader for a newspaper.
  • He came into contact with veteran union leader Placid D’Mello, and the socialist Rammanohar Lohia, who were the greatest influences on his life.Later, he joined the socialist trade union movement.
  • Emerging as a key figure in the Bombay labour movement in the early 1950s, Fernandes was a central figure in the unionisation of sections of Bombay labour in the 1950s.He served as a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation from 1961 to 1968.
THE RISING

 

  • He won in the civic election in 1961 and, until 1968, continuously raised the problems of the exploited workers in the representative body of the metropolis
  • The moment that thrust Fernandes into the limelight was his decision to contest the 1967 general election. He was offered a party ticket for the Bombay South constituency by the Samyukta Socialist Party against the more popular S. K. Patil of the Indian National Congress in Bombay.
  • Patil was a seasoned politician, with two decades of experience. Nevertheless, Fernandes won by garnering 48.5 per cent of the votes, thus earning his nickname, “George the Giantkiller”.
 RAILWAY STRIKE

 

  • In 1969, he was chosen General Secretary of the Samyukta Socialist Party, and in 1973 became the Chairman of the Socialist Party.
  • The most notable strike organised by Fernandes, when he was President of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation, was the All India Railway strike of 1974, where the entire nation was brought to a halt.
  • The strike, which started on 8 May 1974, at the time of economic crisis, provoked strong government reactions and massive arrests.The strike was called off unilaterally on 27 May 1974 by the Action Committee.
EMERGENCY

 

  • The reigning Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, declared a state of emergency on 25 June 1975 due to internal political disturbances.
  • He was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Railways Workers Association of Odisha on June 26 in Berhampur City but before that he hid himself there secretly.
  • A warrant was issued in Fernandes’ name and subsequently he went underground to escape arrest and prosecution. When the police failed to capture him, they arrested and tortured his brother, Lawrence Fernandes.
EMERGENCY

 

  • On 10 June 1976, he was finally arrested in Calcutta on charges of smuggling dynamite to blow up government establishments in protest against the imposition of emergency, in what came to be known as the Baroda dynamite case.
  • Three world leaders from Germany, Norway and Austria were believed to have cabled Indira Gandhi and cautioned her against harming Fernandes. From Baroda, the accused were shifted to Tihar Jail. The accused were never chargesheeted.
  • After the emergency was subsided in January 1977, so that elections could be held on 21 March 1977 in India.
POST EMERGENCY

 

  • Fernandes won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar by an over 300,000 vote margin in 1977 from jail where he was lodged in the Baroda dynamite case.He was also appointed the Union Minister for Industries.
  • During his union ministership, he clashed with American multinationals IBM and Coca-Cola insisting they implement FERA, the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, which had been passed under Indira Gandhi’s government.
  • The two multinationals decided to shut down their Indian operations, when Fernandes pressed ahead with rigid enforcement of FERA.
POLITICS

 

  • After the Janata Party started disintegrating in 1979, Charan Singh left it to form the Janata (Secular) Party and with support from the Congress Party, replaced Desai as Prime Minister.
  • Fernandes retained his Parliamentary seat from Muzaffarpur in 1980, and sat in the opposition.He contested for the Lok Sabha in 1984 from Bangalore North constituency but lost the election by a margin of 40,000 votes.
  • He then decided to shift his base to Bihar in 1989, when an anti-Congress wave was sweeping the country in the wake of the Bofors scandal, and won Muzaffarpur in the 1989 and 1991 general elections.
POLITICS

 

  • He later joined the Janata Dal, a party which was formed from the Janata Party at Bangalore in August 1988. His second tenure as Minister of Railways in the V. P. Singh’s government from 1989 to 1990, though short-lived, was quite eventful.
  • Fernandes broke away from the erstwhile Janata Dal and formed the Samata Party in 1994,which became a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
  • After the collapse of the second BJP-led coalition government, BJP and its allies formed a 24 party alliance called National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which became the first nonCongress coalition government in post-independence India to survive a full five-year term (1999–2004).
  • Later, Fernandes became the convenor of NDA.On 27 July 1999, In 2003, Fernandes reunited with the Janata Dal (United), and also merged his Samata Party with it.
DEFENCE MINISTER

 

  • Fernandes served as the Defence Minister of India in both the second and third National Democratic Alliance governments (1998– 2004).
  • During his tenure as the defence minister, the Kargil war over Kashmir broke out between India and Pakistan in 1999.
  • In May 1998, India conducted five nuclear tests at the Pokharan range in Rajasthan.Earlier a staunch supporter of nuclear disarmament, Fernandes openly endorsed the NDA government’s decision to test the nuclear bombs.
  • After the Tehelka defence scandal broke out in March 2001, Fernandes quit as defence minister, but was reappointed to the post later.
LATER

 

  • In the 2009 general elections, he contested from Muzaffarpur as an independent candidate after being denied a ticket by the Janata Dal (United) on health grounds, but he lost the election.
  • On 30 July 2009, Fernandes filed his nomination as an independent candidate for the mid-term poll being held for the Rajya Sabha seat vacated by Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav.
  • The Janata Dal (United) did not field any candidate against him, which led to his being elected unopposed. He was sworn in on 4 August 2009.
 LATER

 

  • He died at the age of 88 on 29 January 2019, in Delhi following a swine flu infection.