George Fernandes fades away
In the excitement of the Lok Sabha elections, the humiliating defeat of veteran socialist leader George Fernandes has gone totally unnoticed. In fact, George who contested this time as an independent from Muzaffarpur in Bihar even lost his deposit. No one would have imagined that this would be the fate of someone who till five years ago was the convener of NDA and the third most important man in its government after Atal Behari Vajpayee and LK Advani.
The result is perhaps the final word on his eventful political life, which saw him cross many hurdles while coming on the center stage of national politics. George was one of the three famous disciples of Ram Manohar Lohia, one of the greatest socialist leaders of our country and a known Nehru-Indira baiter. If Madhu Limaye had inherited Lohia’s exceptional parliamentary skills and Raj Narain his street fighter abilities, it was George who was his trade union face. George incidentally was also his favourite disciple but subsequently did so many things that would have embarrassed Lohia had he been alive.
George shot into political prominence after he defeated Congress stalwart, SK Patil from South Bombay in the 1967 Parliamentary election. He was a fiery speaker who caught the imagination of a large number of mill workers who lived in the city at that time. In no time, he had earned himself the title of “Giant killer” and his fame propelled him as the top leader of the Railway workers union.
George led the biggest railway strike in the country but those associated with him later held him responsible for betraying their cause by surrendering before the authorities. He also went underground during the emergency and was charged with sedition and other serious offences in connection with what came to be known as the Baroda dynamite case. He was jailed and contested the 1977 polls from behind bars. He won with a thumping margin from Muzaffarpur and joined the Morarji Desai government. A powerful speaker in Parliament, he defended the Desai government during a confidence vote and next morning joined hands with Ch Charan Singh who replaced Morarji as the Prime Minister.
George also was accused of letting down Lohia’s principles. Lohia would never have endorsed his disciple joining hands with communal forces and also not raising his voice against what happened in Gujarat in 2002.
George was once married to Leila Kabir, daughter of well-known thinker Hamayun Kabir. His defeat has ended the era of the last of the three high profile chelas of Lohia.