By George, just how does one classify this man?
Flamboyant iconoclast, trade unionist,
Lohia-ite socialist, quick change artist ... George Fernandes has
often tested chroniclers trying to capture him in words.
For the tousle-haired Fernandes, this is the third stint as a
minister at the Centre. He had earlier handled the communications and
industry ministries in 1977 and the railway ministry in 1989.
Among the political episodes for which he is most remembered are
the all-India railway strike of 1974 and the banishment of Coca-Cola
from India when he was industry minister in the Janata regime of
Born in Mangalore on June 3, 1930, his parents had visualised
for him the life of a priest. Thus, after studying at St Aloysius
high school in the city, he joined the St Peters seminary and
In 1950, at the age of 20, Fernandes moved to Bombay where he
met the veteran trade union leader, the late P D'Mello, and in 1954,
Ram Manohar Lohia, the ''greatest influence'' of his life.
Soon after, he began organising the workers in transport, hotel,
docks and in the municipality and in fertiliser, chemical and other
industries. He was founder president of the All India Radio
Broadcasters and Telecasters Guild, the Khadi Commission Karamchari
Union and the All India University Employees Confederation.
On May 8, 1974, as president of the All India Federation of
Railwaymen, Fernandes organised the country's most successful
strike ever, when Indian Railways was brought to a standstill.
In breaking the strike, Indira Gandhi drew the charge of
despotism and soon after, the Jayaprakash Narayan movement shook the country.
When a besieged Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency, like other leaders,
Fernandes too went underground and hatched a plan to blow up railway
tracks to oppose it. To evade arrest, he began sporting a beard, and
later, a thick moustache and hippie-style long hair.
On January 0, 1977, the police nabbed Fernandes in Calcutta and he
was tried in the infamous Baroda Dynamite Case.
The Emergency was lifted soon after and in the election which
followed, Fernandes won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar with a huge
margin of 334,217 votes. In prison, he never visited the constituency for campaigning.
When the Janata Party government assumed office, he became the Union minister for communications (March to July
1977) and industry minister (July 1977 to January 1980).
He retained the Muzaffarpur seat in 1980, lost it in 1984 and won
it again in 1989.
He was made railway minister in the V P Singh Cabinet in
In 1990, he was minister in charge of multi-party advisory
committee to explore a political settlement of the Kashmir issue. He
has also been closely associated with the struggle of Tibetans
living in India.
His opposition to the Laloo Yadav dispensation in Bihar
apparently led him to a strategic alliance with the Bharatiya Janata
Party in this election. He was returned to the 12th Lok Sabha from
Nalanda in the state.
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