Mumbai Moulded Fernandes, Catapulted Him on National Politics

George Fernandes was born in Mangalore, but it was Mumbai which shaped him as a fiery union leader.

3 min read
File photo of George Fernandes.

George Fernandes was born in Mangalore, but it was Mumbai which shaped him as a fiery union leader and made him famous as the "giant killer" who defeated Congress stalwart S K Patil in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections.

Recalling the veteran socialist's association with the city, CPI leader Prakash Reddy told PTI Patil, who represented the Bombay South Lok Sabha seat, was then called the "uncrowned king of Bombay".

Mumbai at that time had a tradition of strong labour movement in the industrial sector, civic body and small businesses known as 'gumasta', he said.

Fernandes stood up for the workers of the civic body, BEST (Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport)undertaking and gumasta workers and fought for their rights.He made a name for himself among the labour class in the1960s, Reddy said.

"Patil was a very powerful leader. He was invincible. George said S K Patil can be defeated and decided to contestagainst him. He got the backing of the labour," the CPI leaderrecalled.

But before that, it was the externment of union leader Placid D'Mello from Mumbai which got Fernandes into the labour movement, said Ranga Raichure, a long-time friend.

“Thanks to the externment notice, D’Mello brought Fernandes, whom he knew as a sharp and intelligent boy, into the union. George was living on the footpath then.”
Raichure told PTI

During the Sanyukta Maharashtra movement in 1950s and 1960s, the mood of people in Mumbai was anti-Congress since the party was perceived to be against the inclusion of Bombay into the state of Maharashtra.

"All major unions of the civic body, BEST and smallbusinesses in Mumbai were set up by George Fernandes. Thishelped George defeat S K Patil, who was close to topindustrialists," Prakash Reddy said.

"Fernandes painted the walls with a simple message: Patil can be defeated. He got over 48 per cent of votes," 90-year-old Roza Deshpande, daughter of CPI founder S ADange, told PTI.

"Fernandes was one of the most upright trade unionists," she added.

Before contesting the 1967 Lok Sabha poll, Fernandes had led a successful municipal workers' strike in Mumbai,Reddy mentioned.

Interestingly, it was Fernandes who demanded that daily functioning of the Mumbai municipal corporation be carried out in Marathi and not in English, Raichure said.

It is believed that the charismatic union leader's character in the Marathi film "Sinhasan", based on journalist Arun Sadhu's two political novels, was inspired by Fernandes.

The Praja Socialist Party headed by Madhu Dandawateand Fernandes-headed Sanyukta Socialist Party merged to form the Socialist Party and supported the Shiv Sena in the 1968 civic polls in Mumbai.

The Socialist Party and Shiv Sena alliance won the civic polls that year.

"Fernandes was so much blinded by the anti-Congress and anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment that he compromised on his socialist ideology to support the dual membership of associating with the RSS, resulting in his fallout with trade union leader Sharad Rao," Reddy said.

Fernandes had also shared a close relationship with Shiv Sena supremo late Bal Thackeray. He was among the very few to call the Sena patriarch 'Bal', senior journalist Yogesh Trivedi remembered.

It was Fernandes who started a cooperative society fortaximen when one of the union members was denied loan by a bank, reminisced film artist Jayant Dharmadhikari.

"A furious Fernandes united taxi drivers and set up Labour Bank in mid-60s, collecting Rs 10 as share capital from every member of his taxi union. It succeeded and many members could buy their own cars," he said.

Post Emergency, Labour Bank was renamed as New IndiaCooperative Bank.

Deshpande says Fernandes' biggest strength was that heknew when to withdraw a strike, unlike some other union leaders whose obstinate stand led to destruction of entireindustries.

The former defence minister passed away in Delhi Tuesday following a prolonged illness. He was 88.

(This story was auto-published from a syndicated feed. No part of the story has been edited by The Quint.)

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