Mangaluru: Former Defence Minister, the late George Fernandes, who died after a long illness on Tuesday was a Mangalurean, who never forgot his roots. Eighty eight-year-old Fernandes, an anti-Emergency crusader, who was suffering from Alzheimer's, died Tuesday at his residence here. Tributes have been pouring in from all quarters, including those who had worked with him. A lifelong socialist despite his political adventurism that included cabinet posts in two ideologically opposite governments where he ousted Coca-Cola in 1977 and oversaw the Kargil War in 1999, his last rites will be performed after his son Sean arrives from the US, the former defence minister's wife Leila Kabir said.
But it was in his hometown in Mangaluru that his lifelong love for socialism began. He even sought refuge here when he went underground during the Emergency. From Bejai in Mangaluru, he had his basic education at the St Aloysius School before his parents, who wanted him to become a priest, sent him to Bengaluru. But a young George decided the seminary was not for him, more so after he began a protest about the manner in which senior priests got better food than the raw recruits. He returned home where his full blown love affair with socialism began.
Later in life, he recalled how angry his father was about his socialist leanings and told him he had "gone with the ghost," and threw him out of on the streets.
“George, who was asked to leave his house by his father, would sleep near the Radio Bhavan in Nehru Maidan. It was here that he met the great socialist leader, Ammembala Balappa, who made arrangements for him to eat at Jeevaraj Alva's father's house in Hampankatta," recalls PUCL president, P B D'Sa, one of his closest friends.
When Placid D'Mella, a Mangalurean, who had become a famous union leader in Mumbai, came to Mangaluru to deal with a labour problem in a transport sector company , George met him and soon left for Mumbai himself, where he too went on to become a noted union leader.
"He organised labourers, most notably the taxi-men. He was also responsible for opening of petrol pumps and cooperative banks there, which are still running," says Mr D'Sa, who met his friend regularly until his health deteriorated beyond repair. “I heard him speak fluently in Hindi, Marathi, Bihari, and Punjabi. Once, when the police were watching out for him during a railway strike he had called, he disguised himself as a Sardar and spoke fluent Punjabi to the them before jumping on to the tracks right under their nose to start protesting," he recollects.
Mr D'Sa feels George would have made a very suitable Prime Ministerial candidate and the man responsible for the smooth functioning of the NDA government for five years.
"The five- year NDA rule went smoothly mainly because of (the former Prime Minister, the late) Vajpayee and George. George was the convener of NDA and managed to hold all the parties together. He was a great human being, a great patriot and nationalist. He was a daring leader and was keen on taking charge. He was instrumental in making impossible projects like the Konkan Railway and Project Sea Bird a reality," he adds. One of the "most wanted" persons during the Emergency, George was very active underground.