Born On: June 3, 1930
Born In: Mangalore, Karnataka, India
Career: Trade unionist, Politician, Journalist, Agriculturist
During the Kargil conflict, George Fernandes set new standards as the Defence Minister of India by braving the inhospitable Himalayan heights to visit troops on the battlefront and rightly became the darling of the soldiers and a good number of average citizens. A trade unionist, journalist, political activist and Minister, all rolled into one, in a way sums up George Fernandes. Throughout his life he had problems with authority. As a young man, Fernandes rebelled against church fathers, offended with the fact that teachers at his religious school feasted while the students ate slops. Later, as a Bombay labor organizer, Fernandes frequently found himself in jail after his strikers wrangled with hired company strong-armers. Nothing discouraged him from his philosophy and agenda or from what he thought was right.
Born to John Joseph Fernandes and Alice Martha Fernandes, George Fernandes was born in Mangalore on June 3, 1930. His mother was a great admirer of King George V (who was also born on June 3); hence she named her first son George.He completed his Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) at St. Aloysius College, Mangalore. In the orthodox tradition of the family, he, being the eldest son, was sent to get a religious education at the St Peter's Seminary in Bangalore after his schooling. At the age of sixteen he was to be trained as a Roman Catholic priest from 1946 to 1948. At the age of nineteen, however, he left the religious school due to sheer frustration because he was appalled with the fact that the fathers ate better food and sat at higher tables than the seminarians. He started working at the age of nineteen, organizing exploited workers in the road transport industry and in the hotels and restaurants of Mangalore.
George Fernandes moved to Bombay in 1949 in search of a job. He got a job as a proofreader for a newspaper. Here, he came into contact with veteran union leader Placid D'Mello and the socialist Rammanohar Lohia, who were the greatest influences on his life. Later, he joined the socialist trade union movement. He rose to prominence as a trade unionist and fought for the rights of labourers in small scale service establishments such as hotels and restaurants. He served as a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation from 1961 to 1968. He won the civic election in 1961 and until 1968 continuously raised the problems of the exploited workers with the representative body of the metropolis.The pivotal moment that thrust Fernandes into the public eye was his decision to contest the 1967 general elections. He was offered a party ticket for the Bombay South constituency by the Samyukta Socialist Party against the politically more popular Sadashiv Kanoji Patil of the Indian National Congress in Bombay. Mr. Fernandes emerged as a key leader in the upsurge of strike actions in Bombay and was first elected to Parliament in 1967. As President of the All India Railway Men's Federation he led the Railway strike involving 1.5 million workers in 1974, resulting in thousands being sent to jail. This was one of the events that led to the imposition of the emergency in June 1975.Fernandes founded his own Samata party in 1994. He was the only Christian minister in Prime Minister Vajpayee's cabinet and has held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry, railways and defence. After the Tehelka defence scandal broke out in March 2001, Fernandes quit as defence minister accepting moral responsibility for the sandal. However less than eight months later, after being cleared of any wrong-doing, he was reappointed to the same post.
His contributions to politics have been remarkable and he has always been held in high regards by the members of the parliament. His major contributions to politics include his recent election to the Rajya Sabha and his services to the socialist movement in India. As a founder member of the Janata Dal, as a parliamentarian in the Lok Sabha, as the Railways and Defence Minister and as a convener of the NDA, George Fernandes has been a very important personality in the Indian political scenario. He has also contributed his thoughts to society through the several books written by him.
Awards and Accolades