And so old George (Jaarj in Delhi parlance) is dead. It is a merciful release to a man who was bedridden for the last several years of his life. The unsightly battle between his former wife and son on one side and his companion on the other for control over him, even as he was unable to have a say only made his last years most poignant. At one time, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, he was all over the place and what’s more, was India’s firebrand. It helped of course that those were the years of great labour unrest and in George Fernandes the Unions found a great leader. Later, he rose to become Cabinet Minister but in my view, his finest hour was already over.
The years leading to the Emergency were when he became a household name. Magazines used to feature him on their cover. And he was strongly against Indira. In July 1975, the LIC Building in Madras went up in flames. The fire lasted for the better part of a night and the subsequent day. The entire fire-fighting force of the city was deployed in putting out the fire and you can imagine the level of desperation when I tell you that even Cooum water was pressed into service. I remember as a nine-year old climbing up a ladder to the top level of our two-storied house in Mylapore to see the sky coloured a bright red. Madras was a city with no high-rises then and such things could be observed. Years later, it would transpire from Wikileaks that Fernandes claimed to the Americans that he and his team that was working closely with Naxalites had masterminded the fire. This was perhaps nothing more than a tall claim, for investigations revealed that the fire had broken out due to more technical reasons.
Such claims could not have endeared him to Mrs Gandhi and so as soon as the Emergency was declared, George Fernandes went underground. My researches for the biography of Dr Mathuram Santhosham revealed that he surfaced in our city and first knocked at the door of the former who lived on Spurtank Road. Here he was sheltered for a while and later, when the police began to close in, was secreted away to Express Estates on Mount Road. There, in that vast campus he remained for quite some time before resurfacing and then courting arrest somewhere else in India. His going away picture, showing him raising his handcuffed hands, will remain an everlasting memory.
In later years, George Fernandes became a familiar figure in the city as mediator between the NDA and the local parties. In this he was always closer to the DMK and most cordially detested Jayalalithaa for which attitude the latter was responsible entirely.
An interviewer once asked him as to why he was always so shabbily dressed. I too had wondered over this. Even the Bong Socialists (Chochalist in Bihari parlance) were always nattily turned out. His response was immediate – he washed and ironed his clothes himself and he invariably had no time for the latter activity. Said to be India’s best Defence Minister, he was unfortunately named in some scandal, which I now forget. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease and I am happy he is freed from its clutches.
George Fernandez was caught in the “Coffin” Scandal.
On Wed, 30 Jan 2019, 10:43 am Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music sriramv posted: ” And so old George (Jaarj in Delhi parlance) is dead. It > is a merciful release to a man who was bedridden for the last several years > of his life. The unsightly battle between his former wife and son on one > side and his companion on the other for contro” >
George may have had his faults but stood for what he believed in. He mellowed down in his later years from the initial firebrand leader of the 70s. He was not one to be cowed down by the mighty if the cause was right, ever willing to take them on in an uphill battle, even if it meant the consequences for him were unpleasant.
He was not one to bow down before a dynasty, even if it meant that the lady at the helm at that time, did not hesitate to put him in handcuffs and throw him in a prison for he dared to oppose and organize a huge workforce in protest. The act of pulling down the picture of another lady of the same dynasty, which shared public space with those fought for the country’s freedom and later built it and therefore George thought was out of place, will also not be forgotten.
He was ‘Secular’ but not in the way it is interpreted now by ignoring or insulting the majority religion, pandering to select vote bank groups, putting all things foreign on a pedestal and humiliating our glorious culture or heritage or past learning.
When George was the minister for industries he hounded out IBM and Coke. They are both here with their competitors like HP and Pepsi and host of other multinationals. Our Desi substitute for Coke in the days of Swadeshi companies was Thumbs Up and Double-Seven. Thumbs up ironically is now a Coke product and Double-Seven is dead. RIP.
The heady days of socialism are over. Will realism take over ?
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