My sympathies this otherwise fine morning are with Mr. George Fernandes. The one-Time hero of the working classes is now totally cancelled from politiecs. He is also a forgotten hero.
Nobody talks of ‚ÄúGeorge‚ÄĚ anymore, no taxi driver and no municipal sweeper and no dockworker and none of the little boys who work in south Indian restaurants, go to night schools and play football at the Oval on Sundays.
It was these boys who brought George Eernandes to Bombay in the first lplace form his native Mangalore. They paid his fare and his fees and his fees to study law, so that he could help them to be less exploited, more rewarded for their labours.
It was money well invested. Late in the nights, after the last idlis and the last coffees had been served, George would meet the boys in a series of meetings in different restaurants scattered over the city. And, in a few years, he got them al together in one big meeting, got them combined and got their minimum wages raised from R. 5 to Rs. 100.
After that there was no stopping George Fernandes. Taxis went off the road for a month, and, when they came back, for the first time ever those meter cards with enhanced fares were introduced. And the municipality stopped working, garbage piled up in the city, the BEST workers threatened to join the strike.
I remember the Saturday night past midnight, when George Fernandes walked into the Free Press office, shook me awake from the table on which I was sleeping, and announced that he had won. They stopped the press for George Fernandes that night, a new Bharat Jyoti front page was made, a bold, black bannerline declaring that the municipal strike had ended and George Fernandes had won once again.‚ÄĚ
He was virtually pushed into the municipal corporation, then, riding a popular wave, George The Giant-Killer, as he called himself, challenged the South Bombay citadel of S.k. Patil and defeated him. George Fernandes was by then a national figure. An all-India Railway Employees strike, which brought all the railways to a stand still, people coming from Kalyan and Ambernath by trucks to work in Bombay. A Bombay bandh, a Maharashtra bandh, a Bharat bandh. And it was he who gave the word bandh to the nation.
But he was already spreading himself too much, moving too fast. But the Emergency gave him new life, he became the Scarlet Pimpernel, a folk-hero, living in disguises, writing clandestine newsletters, including poetry. Caught, put in irons, he was defiant, the giantkiller all over again.
With the Janta government, he became its minister for industries. That finisted him, that finished the Janata government.
Since then he has been trying to come back. The recent by-election was his final attempt. I am afraid George Fernandes‚Äôs political career has ended. In Bombay even the restaurant boys will not recognise him.