Our nation received was left stunned with the demise of our former Defence Minister George Mathew Fernandes on 29th January, Tuesday. George Fernandes, who passed away at the age of 88, served as the Defence Minister of our nation under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government during the tenure of 1998 to 2004.
His Role during During Emergency –
Being a staunch socialist, active journalist, trade unionist, and a freethinker, Fernandes stood firm against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. He openly protested against it due to which a warrant was issued against his name. After the issue of the warrant, he went underground in order to escape arrest. He even had allegations against him for receiving funding from the French Government and the CIA to cause political upheaval and revolt against the Prime Minister. On their failure to capture Fernandes, the government seized his brother and tortured him for information and to reveal the whereabouts of George Fernandes. However, the government was unable to catch hold of him during the Emergency Era. PM Modi mentioned in his tweet how Fernandes ‘never deviated from his political ideology’ and ‘resisted the Emergency tooth and nail’.
Such was the political outreach of George Fernandes that on the evening of June 25, right before the Emergency was declared that night, George got the information. He then successfully disguised himself and vanished into thin air. No one was aware of his whereabouts for a while except his close colleagues. He was one of the greatest heroes of Emergency who fought against all the oppression without being threatened and deterring from his path. He was captured on 10th June 1976 by the Government. Contradictory to what may have been expected, he continued to fight even in captivity. George Fernandes contested the elections from the jail. The poster circulated for the campaign was a picture of him with his hands shackled. He even won the elections from Muzzaffarpur, Bihar with a wide margin. He became a symbol of freedom even when he was himself in shackles.
His Role during Kargil War –
It was during his ministry that the Kargil war over Kashmir broke out between India and Pakistan in the year 1999. According to the perception of the masses, the war broke out due to the failure of the Indian intelligence agency Raw in its inability to detect infiltration by the Pakistani troops in the Indian border. However, Fernandes never attributed the cause of war to the failure of Indian intelligence agencies. Amidst all the scams and allegations charged against him, Fernandes chose to quit the post of the defence minister in the year 2001. However, he was later reappointed to his post. All the allegations put against him were later nullified in the year 2009 after due investigation. Fernandes personally visited the Indian border at the Siachen Glacier 18 times in order to supervise the position and the situation of the Indian Army in that area.
Although he did support the nuclear disarmament, he backed the decision of testing nuclear bombs in Pokhran. During the two year span that he got to work with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam at the post of the President of India, both of them ensured a substantial rise in the allocations made by the Indian Government to the Defence sector.
He and Nitish Kumar Formed Samta Party –
In the year 1994, George Fernandes along with Nitish Kumar founded the political party Samata Party. The Samata Party was a leftist party which was born out of the Janata Dal due to the presence of casteism being involved in the party politics. While the President of the party, Fernandes, in the year 2003, decided to merge the Samata Party with the Janata Dal(United). But some time later, due to certain skirmishes between Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes, Fernandes decided to leave the party. However, in 2007, Fernandes returned to the party after sorting the issues.
His Influence on the Country –
George Fernandes influenced the country’s mechanism greatly. He persisted to bring about changes from the grass root level. His works have been extensive and unparalleled in terms of contribution for the Indian farmers. He worked immensely to bring up the representation of the Indian farmers and tried to solve their problem personally. When looked at from the point of view of a supporter of freedom, its safe to say that he was the ‘hero’ of India during the Emergency,1975.
He has held many important offices in the Union Cabinet such as the Defence, Railway and Communication. His contribution to his nation shall always remain unforgettable. Though his demise came after a prolonged illness, neither his illness nor his demise can quench the fire that he had ignited. His life has taught the youth of India to stand up for what they believe is right. His conviction was so strong that it made him fearless. George Fernandes has left behind a legacy of hard work, determination, conviction, and persistence. Although this is a sad hour for the country, the citizens of the nation must not forget to celebrate his life and draw inspiration from what he has left behind for us. India as we know it today, would have never been the same without the contributions that George Fernandes made for this country.