George had a shadow name: David. For taking on the Goliaths of his time, right from the 1950s and 1960s. The Bombay strongman SK Patil was among the early ‘giants’ he locked horns with.
But his fights were not with human Goliaths as much as with forces like the power of money and the tyranny of monopolies. If ever there was a social democrat by instinct, training and practice, George Fernandes was him. Equality and fairness were for him not goals 'out there' but values for the here and the right now.
But a cloud of mystery hung over his honest head, for he kept his associations with possible comrades, potential colleagues and putative supporters to himself, one not knowing too much about the other. Also, because he always knew more than he revealed, saw more than he reflected. He had more to say, to write about than he chose ever to put into words.
Kovind, Modi pay homage to Fernandes
A vapour of sadness, likewise, floated across his sensitive brow as well. It did that because he always found himself to be in one place when he longed to be in another, with one colleague when he wanted to be with another friend, in one site physically when he wanted to be in another, emotionally.
He represented the scope and the risks of colleagueship, friendship, ministership and leadership. He symbolised the hopes and hazards of trust as an investment in private and public coalitions.
George Fernandes was a whiff of idealism that can be co-opted by the miasmas of real-politik. He energised and dismayed, inspired and bemused. But he ever, unfailingly, signposted, as few did courage. He has left us at a time when India needs his courage to fight for human rights and civil liberties. May your soul rest in peace, George, but not your mind. May that rest not in peace, as Sarojini Naidu once said famously, and keep nudging India towards justness and plain human decency.
My condolences to his family and friends, with my faith.
(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former Governor of West Bengal.)
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