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‘Firebrand’ Fernandes showed immense courage during tough times like the Emergency

By January 30, 2019No Comments

Source : The New Indian Express

Here’s a look back at literature that described George Fernandes as the ‘romantic symbol of resistance to the Emergency’.


As the former trade unionist, politician, journalist and agriculturist George Fernandes passes away, here are some excerpts from literature characterising the leader’s contributions during the time of the 1975 Emergency in India declared by Indira Gandhi.

‘Firebrand Fernandes’

The book ‘The Emergency: A Personal History’ by Coomi Kapoor describes George Fernandes as a ‘romantic symbol of resistance to the Emergency’.

The book dedicates an entire chapter called “Firebrand Fernandes”, detailing on his ideologies and journies.



In 1973 Fernandes took over as the chairman of the All India Railway Federation. A year later, he declared a nationwide railway strike when the workers were poorly compensated. The strike made a huge impact on the government and acted as one of the starting points of the Emergency.

According to the book, “Mrs Gandhi looked upon the railway strike as a manifestation of the growing climate of violence and indiscipline in the country. Indeed, she often mentioned the strike when justifying the imposition of the Emergency.

The book also talks about how Fernandes prepared his arguments for the Baroda dynamite case. “Noting that the elections had been announced, he exhorted the people to remain ever-vigilant about their rights and liberties – only then could the country remain free and prevent its takeover as the private fiefdom of an individual and her family.”

Seeking help from abroad

According to the book ‘Emergency Chronicles: Indira Gandhi and Democracy’s turning point’ by Gyan Prakash, George Fernandes sent several letters to the prime minister accusing her of being a fascist dictator. With the help of a friend, he managed to fly to Europe to discuss with the leaders about the Emergency.

The book says: “According to the US state department cables published by Wikileaks, Fernandes tried unsuccessfully to enlist French assistance to contact the CIA to ask for its financial support for his underground activities.”



Fernandes was imprisoned later in Calcutta (now Kolkata) for smuggling dynamite (Baroda dynamite case).

The book quotes the proclamation that he made when he was arrested in 1976: “The chains we bear are the symbols of the entire nation which has been chained and fettered by dictatorship, a symbol of the infamy that has been perpetrated on our country.”

Tough times for family

The book ‘A Daylight Robbery of Human Rights’ by Dr Janak Raj Jai describes a letter from Alice Fernandes, mother of George Fernandes. she writes to the President of India about the brutalities faced by her sons during that time.

“My third son, Michael Fernandes, has been detained under the MISA since December 1975. On Saturday, May 1, at about 6 pm, my 44-year-old second son, Lawrence Fernandes, was taken away from our residence by the police. They began questioning him about the whereabouts of my eldest son, George Fernandes, and then subjected him to a most inhuman, reckless and ruthless manner to third-degree methods of physical torture.”

The letter goes on to say that Lawrence was beaten up and threatened to be thrown under a train if he did not reveal where George was. He was locked up for days without food and water.

“Is it morally right that my family should be so harassed and tormented for the political views held by my son, George Fernandes?”

In his final arguments in court, Fernandes demanded the restoration of fundamental rights for his brothers and political aides. He ended his plea with, “Sir, I am proud, very proud indeed, that when Mrs Gandhi became the dictator, I and my comrades behaved like MEN.”


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