Date of Birth: 3 June 1930 (age 88 years), Karnataka
George Fernandes Wife: Leila Kabir (m. 1971–1980)
Siblings: Lawrence Fernandes, Michael Fernandes, Aloysius Fernandes, Richard Fernandes, Paul Fernandes
Parents: John Joseph Fernandes, Alice Martha
Movies: Malcolm X: Prince of Islam
Education: St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary (1946–1948), St Aloysius College
Died on: 29 January 2019
George Mathew Fernandes is a former Indian trade unionist, politician, journalist, agriculturist, and member of Rajya Sabha from Bihar. He was a key member of the Janata Dal and is the founder of the Samata Party. He has held several ministerial portfolios including communications, industry, railways, and defence.
A native of Mangalore, Fernandes was sent to Bangalore in 1946 to be trained as a priest. In 1949, he moved to Bombay, where he joined the socialist trade union movement. Becoming a trade union leader, Fernandes organised many strikes and bandhs in Bombay in the 1950s and 1960s while working with the Indian Railways. He defeated S K Patil of Indian National Congress in the 1967 parliamentary elections from the South Bombay (now south Mumbai) constituency. He organised the 1974 Railway strike, when he was President of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation. Fernandes went underground during the Emergency era of 1975, while challenging Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for imposing a state of emergency, but in 1976 he was arrested and tried in the infamous Baroda dynamite case.
In 1977, after the Emergency had been lifted, Fernandes won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar in absentia and was appointed as Union Minister for Industries. During his tenure as union minister, he ordered American multinationals IBM and Coca-Cola to leave the country, due to investment violations. He was the driving force behind the Konkan Railway project during his tenure as railway minister from 1989 to 1990. He was a defence minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government (1998–2004), when the Kargil War broke out between India and Pakistan, and India conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran. A veteran socialist, Fernandes has been dogged by various controversies, including the Barak Missile scandal and the Tehelka affair. George Fernandes won nine Lok Sabha elections from 1967 to 2004. Died on 29.01.2019.
George Fernandes Early Life
George Fernandes was born on 3 June 1930 to John Joseph Fernandes and Alice Martha Fernandes (née Pinto), in Mangaluru then Mangalore to a Mangalorean Catholic family. The eldest of six children, his siblings are Lawrence, Michael, Paul, Aloysius, and Richard. His mother was a great admirer of King George V (who was also born on 3 June), hence she named her first son George. His father was employed by the Peerless Finance group as an insurance executive, and headed their office of South India for several years. George was fondly called “Gerry” in close family circles. He attended his first few years of schooling at a government school near his house called “Board school”, a municipal school and a church school.
He studied from fifth grade at the school attached to St. Aloysius College, Mangalore where he completed his Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC).
In an interview with E TV, he described his decision to stop studies after matriculation despite his father wishing him to study and become a lawyer. His premise was that he did not want to become a lawyer and fight cases for his father who often evicted tenants from a patch of land that they owned on the outskirts of Mangalore. He instead decided to go to the seminary and study to become a priest. He went to St Peter’s Seminary in Bangalore at the age of 16, to be trained as a Roman Catholic priest, studying philosophy for two and a half years from 1946 to 1948. At the age of 19, he left the seminary due to sheer frustration because he was appalled that the rectors ate better food and sat at higher tables than the seminarians He later confessed that, “I was disillusioned, because there was a lot of difference between precept and practice where the Church was concerned.” He began work at the age of 19, organising exploited workers in the road transport industry and in the hotels and restaurants in Mangalore.
Fernandes served as the Defence Minister of India in both the second and third National Democratic Alliance governments (1998–2004). During his tenure as the defence minister, the Kargil war over Kashmir broke out between India and Pakistan in 1999. The war began when heavily armed Pakistan-backed intruders dug themselves in at heights of 16,000 feet (4,900 m) – 18,000 feet (5,500 m) on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC) along an 80 kilometres (50 mi) stretch north of Kargil. They began attacking the strategic highway linking Srinagar and Leh. As a result, the Indian army undertook the Operation Vijay to push back the Pakistani intruders and regain the occupied territories. The inability of the Indian intelligence and military agencies to detect the infiltration early received criticism, both by the opposition as well as the media. However, Fernandes has refused to acknowledge the failure of intelligence agencies in detecting infiltration along Kargil sector.
In May 1998, India conducted five nuclear tests at the Pokharan range in Rajasthan. Earlier a staunch supporter of nuclear disarmament, Fernandes openly endorsed the NDA government’s decision to test the nuclear bombs. He was also involved in skirmishes with the then Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, Vishnu Bhagwat, over promotion of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff. Bhagwat was subsequently sacked over the issue. After the Tehelka defence scandal broke out in March 2001, Fernandes quit as defence minister, but was reappointed to the post later. Fernandes has been the only defence minister of a nuclear power who has had a picture of Hiroshima bombing in his office. He has made 18 visits to the icy heights of the 6,600 metres (4.1 mi) Siachen glacier in Kashmir, which holds the record of being “the world’s highest battlefield”. He was known for overseeing a huge increase in India’s defence budget as compared to the allocations made by previous governments.