Fiery trade unionist, socialist and former Union minister George Fernandes who passed away on January 29 was given an indulgent, even laudatory send-off by the editorial writers in the media. The reality that he was one of the most self-serving and turncoat politicians in the history of post-independence India, was interred with his bones. Your correspondent is aware of this because after he was appointed Union industries minister in the ill-fated post-Emergency Janata government in 1977, I wrote a detailed biographical cover story titled ‘The enigma that is George Fernandes’ in a previous avatar as editor of Business India.
As industry minister, his prime contribution was to expel IBM and Coca Cola — then the most respected companies globally — from India. Shortly thereafter when the tottering Janata government faced a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, he made a brilliant speech in its defence and voted against it the very next day.
Subsequently, his Samata Party joined forces with the BJP which had been his sworn enemy for decades, and in 1999 Fernandes was appointed Union defence minister in the BJP/NDA coalition government led by prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. In 2004, he was forced to resign after Jaya Jaitley, secretary of the Samata Party and his constant companion was caught accepting a bribe in a sting operation organised by Tehelka magazine. Earlier in 2002 he barely survived a scandal in which his ministry imported coffins for soldiers killed in the Kargil war at thirteen times their market value.
In short, George Fernandes was a mere ideological poseur bereft of any principles except his own material advancement and self-aggrandisement, who inflicted heavy damage upon public life and the Indian economy. And the final irony: his only son Sean has opted to live and work in the United States, a country for which Fernandes had nothing but absolute vitriol. Typical.