The importance of Fernandes can be gauged from the way his arrest during Emergency was planned and executed.

 

New Delhi: Socialists and Communists overshadowed right-wing Jan Sangh (precursor of BJP) and the short-lived Swatantra Party in the Opposition’s political discourse during the first three decades of the Republic. They had effective presence in Parliament and the opposition to Jawaharlal Nehru was primarily provided by these Left forces. Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” stance made a section of Communists her allies. Socialists, however, continued to be the bulwark of anti-Congressism. Ram Manohar Lohia and his virulent followers Raj Narain, Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes, Karpoori Thakur, along with Madhu Dandavate, Nath Pai, Surendra Mohanand, at a later stage Sharad Yadav, were the prominent opponents of Indira Gandhi within and outside Parliament. Raj Narain’s election petition unseated Indira Gandhi, causing the Emergency and thereafter ushered in a new phase in which Congress slowly dwindled out of its dominant position. The socialist movement splintered, reunited and split again, somewhat like amoeba. But impact of the socialists not only pulled down the Congress, but also caused the downfall of the first non-Congress government, led by Morarji Desai.

The slogan of Lohia-Fernandes-Limaye led Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), “sansopa ne baandhi hai gaanth, pichhde pawen sau mein saath”—SSP has resolved that Backwards must get 60%—was the precursor to reservations.

The Samajwadi Party of Mulayam-AkhileshYadav; Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav and his sons and daughter; Janata Dal(U) dominated by Nitish Kumar; Lok Janshakti Party led by Ramvilas Paswan; Loktantrik Janata Dal of Sharad Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati today occupy the social justice space, which was created by the socialist movement. .

Lohia, Limaye, Karpoori, Fernandes or any other leader of the classical socialist movement did not create a personality cult, though they had iconic following. No individual family called the shots in the movement, unlike the scenario in the parties propagating social justice today. Writing the obituary of George Fernandes, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union during the Emergency, Prof Anand Kumar, noted, “He resisted the politics of personality cult in the social justice movement”.

George Fernandes was born in Karnataka. He lost the only Lok Sabha election he fought from his home turf in the 1984 post-Indira assassination polls, when Congress romped home with 400 plus seats. He entered Parliament in 1967 from Bombay South; and later represented Bihar by winning from Muzaffarpur and Nalanda another eight terms. His last tenure was in the Rajya Sabha. He controlled the transport unions of Bombay in the 1960s and led the crippling nationwide railway strike for 20 days in May 1974. The failure of the railway strike changed the paradigm of trade unionism in India. It also set the stage for him to become a most wanted underground leader during the Emergency.

The importance of George Fernandes can be gauged from the way his arrest during the Emergency was meticulously planned and executed. As president of Socialist Party (formed by uniting SSP and PSP) he enjoyed the respect of the Vienna-based Socialist International. A significant part of Europe, including Norway, Austria and West Germany were ruled by Socialist parties and the international body recognised Fernandes’ party as its Indian unit. (Congress under D.K. Barooah attempted to dislodge Fernandes’ party in the Vienna line-up, some progress was made as Indira Gandhi was seen as a socialist leader—that was brought to naught with the Emergency in 1975.)

Betrayed by a businessman friend, the whereabouts of Fernandes were known to the police much before his arrest in Calcutta on 10 June 1976. Indira Gandhi, accompanied by her two sons and daughters-in-law were visiting the USSR that day. Sanjay Gandhi, who accompanied his mother at the eleventh hour as he was attracted by the Soviet proposition that he will get to see a space flight simulator first hand and experience the training process, was scheduled to lead an Indian Youth Congress delegation to Czechoslovakia. The then Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president, Ambika Soni led the goodwill delegation instead.

Those days IYC presidents used to be accorded the status of permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC)—N.D. Tiwari, Tulsidas Dasappa, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and Ambika Soni enjoyed this exalted status in the party hierarchy. A day before Soni’s depature, the then Minister of State for Home, Om Mehta (who effectively ran the Home Ministry, while K. BrahmanandaReddi was the titular Cabinet minister) asked the delegation to hop across from Prague to Vienna ostensibly to establish contact with the Socialist International. As the delegation reached Vienna, news about George Fernandes’ arrest was flashed from India. Ambassador Amrik Singh Mehta was perturbed as the Indian team was to meet the Socialist International top brass the next day. Bruno Kriesky, the Socialist Chancellor of Austria and Bruno Pittermann the Socialist International chief, minced no words in condemning the arrest of “Comrade Fernandes”. Willy Brandt, the West German Socialist leader and the leader of the Norway Socialist Party conveyed their protest to New Delhi. The presence of Ambika Soni in Vienna somewhat blunted the impact of the attack, as these leaders felt they had expressed their chagrin first hand to a top member of Indira Gandhi’s party.

As Union minister Fernandes lived sans security. The gates of his bungalow, 3 Krishna Menon Marg, were removed to symbolise an open house.

Narendra Modi began his Pariksha Pe Charcha this year by paying tribute to Fernandes and hailing him as “jujharu” (man who struggled). This tribute, paid amidst youth, was perhaps the best eulogy a leader could have received.

Socialists and Communists overshadowed right-wing Jan Sangh (precursor of BJP) and the short-lived Swatantra Party in the Opposition’s political discourse during the first three decades of the Republic. They had effective presence in Parliament and the opposition to Jawaharlal Nehru was primarily provided by these Left forces. Indira Gandhi’s “garibi hatao” stance made a section of Communists her allies. Socialists, however, continued to be the bulwark of anti-Congressism. Ram Manohar Lohia and his virulent followers Raj Narain, Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes, Karpoori Thakur, along with Madhu Dandavate, Nath Pai, Surendra Mohanand, at a later stage Sharad Yadav, were the prominent opponents of Indira Gandhi within and outside Parliament. Raj Narain’s election petition unseated Indira Gandhi, causing the Emergency and thereafter ushered in a new phase in which Congress slowly dwindled out of its dominant position. The socialist movement splintered, reunited and split again, somewhat like amoeba. But impact of the socialists not only pulled down the Congress, but also caused the downfall of the first non-Congress government, led by Morarji Desai.

The slogan of Lohia-Fernandes-Limaye led Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), “sansopa ne baandhi hai gaanth, pichhde pawen sau mein saath”—SSP has resolved that Backwards must get 60%—was the precursor to reservations.

The Samajwadi Party of Mulayam-AkhileshYadav; Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav and his sons and daughter; Janata Dal(U) dominated by Nitish Kumar; Lok Janshakti Party led by Ramvilas Paswan; Loktantrik Janata Dal of Sharad Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati today occupy the social justice space, which was created by the socialist movement. .

Lohia, Limaye, Karpoori, Fernandes or any other leader of the classical socialist movement did not create a personality cult, though they had iconic following. No individual family called the shots in the movement, unlike the scenario in the parties propagating social justice today. Writing the obituary of George Fernandes, the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union during the Emergency, Prof Anand Kumar, noted, “He resisted the politics of personality cult in the social justice movement”.

George Fernandes was born in Karnataka. He lost the only Lok Sabha election he fought from his home turf in the 1984 post-Indira assassination polls, when Congress romped home with 400 plus seats. He entered Parliament in 1967 from Bombay South; and later represented Bihar by winning from Muzaffarpur and Nalanda another eight terms. His last tenure was in the Rajya Sabha. He controlled the transport unions of Bombay in the 1960s and led the crippling nationwide railway strike for 20 days in May 1974. The failure of the railway strike changed the paradigm of trade unionism in India. It also set the stage for him to become a most wanted underground leader during the Emergency.

As president of Socialist Party, George Fernandes enjoyed the respect of the Vienna-based Socialist International. The international body recognised his party as its Indian unit.

The importance of George Fernandes can be gauged from the way his arrest during the Emergency was meticulously planned and executed. As president of Socialist Party (formed by uniting SSP and PSP) he enjoyed the respect of the Vienna-based Socialist International. A significant part of Europe, including Norway, Austria and West Germany were ruled by Socialist parties and the international body recognised Fernandes’ party as its Indian unit. (Congress under D.K. Barooah attempted to dislodge Fernandes’ party in the Vienna line-up, some progress was made as Indira Gandhi was seen as a socialist leader—that was brought to naught with the Emergency in 1975.)

Betrayed by a businessman friend, the whereabouts of Fernandes were known to the police much before his arrest in Calcutta on 10 June 1976. Indira Gandhi, accompanied by her two sons and daughters-in-law were visiting the USSR that day. Sanjay Gandhi, who accompanied his mother at the eleventh hour as he was attracted by the Soviet proposition that he will get to see a space flight simulator first hand and experience the training process, was scheduled to lead an Indian Youth Congress delegation to Czechoslovakia. The then Indian Youth Congress (IYC) president, Ambika Soni led the goodwill delegation instead.

Those days IYC presidents used to be accorded the status of permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC)—N.D. Tiwari, Tulsidas Dasappa, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi and Ambika Soni enjoyed this exalted status in the party hierarchy. A day before Soni’s depature, the then Minister of State for Home, Om Mehta (who effectively ran the Home Ministry, while K. BrahmanandaReddi was the titular Cabinet minister) asked the delegation to hop across from Prague to Vienna ostensibly to establish contact with the Socialist International. As the delegation reached Vienna, news about George Fernandes’ arrest was flashed from India. Ambassador Amrik Singh Mehta was perturbed as the Indian team was to meet the Socialist International top brass the next day. Bruno Kriesky, the Socialist Chancellor of Austria and Bruno Pittermann the Socialist International chief, minced no words in condemning the arrest of “Comrade Fernandes”. Willy Brandt, the West German Socialist leader and the leader of the Norway Socialist Party conveyed their protest to New Delhi. The presence of Ambika Soni in Vienna somewhat blunted the impact of the attack, as these leaders felt they had expressed their chagrin first hand to a top member of Indira Gandhi’s party.

As Union minister Fernandes lived sans security. The gates of his bungalow, 3 Krishna Menon Marg, were removed to symbolise an open house.

Narendra Modi began his Pariksha Pe Charcha this year by paying tribute to Fernandes and hailing him as “jujharu” (man who struggled). This tribute, paid amidst youth, was perhaps the best eulogy a leader could have received.

 

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