news Sunday, June 14, 2015 - 05:30
  By Jaya Jaitly   June is always a significant month for those closely associated with George Fernandes. His birthday and the Anniversary of the Emergency fall in this month. This year he turned 85 on June 3, stricken by a monster disease called Alzheimer’s that slowly and cruelly devours a person’s cognitive abilities, memories and identity.  He lies alone, his real self long parted from his body, unaware of date and time, deliberately distanced from his close associates who for the least three decades had always celebrated his birthday with him. For a man who fought for everyone's freedom, and spoke his mind so brilliantly it is cruel to see that he is today caged as he never was before. He always  had a very simple and private birthday, enjoying a cake from  his favourite bakery in Hotel Ashok, among an informal and modest group  including Burmese refugees, Tibetans, and poor constituents from Muzaffarpur or Nalanda, even as the present ‘leaders’ of Bihar never bothered to drop in.   Had George been well, he would have ignored his birthday and lost no time in organizing a big event to recall the 40th year of the Emergency on June 25. He would be the ultimate story teller, sharing with younger generations incidents and experiences of the time when India’s democracy was crushed for the sake of Indira Gandhi’s personal ambition and power. He would have gathered all those who suffered during those days, remembering those who sacrificed their personal freedom and safety, and urged the youth to treasure democracy by not allowing entry of tyranny in the dead of night. He would have spoken with that same fire and love of his country and its democratic freedoms that inspired him to go underground and mobilize a unique fight back, publicly calling Indira Gandhi a dictator and organizing groups to handle dynamite and blow up bridges.   He wanted to demonstrate that the people of India were not meek, and that if illegal measures were used to stifle democracy, all measures to fight back were legitimate. He never taught violence, and never allowed lives to be harmed. He would have fascinated today’s youth with tales of how he had travelled in a series of disguises all over the country, sometimes as a sadhu, at other times a turbaned sardar, hiding in the cars of friends when travelling, and popping up like a kingfisher somewhere else. He would share how he met other leaders secretly,  encouraging people to speak out, mobilize and reject the atrocities mounted on citizens, the media, the judiciary and the Constitution. When the Emergency was lifted unexpectedly in 1979, he was in Tihar jail, being brought for court hearings in chains, unsure of whether he would live or be hanged for sedition against the State.   On his birthday this year many old fashioned socialists found new forms of communication to express their support and concern for him. Ironic that he barely enjoyed holding a mobile phone and never learned of the existence of Smart phones, Twitter, Instagrams or  Selfies.  Just as he used to ask sarcastically whether civil society called itself "civil"  because it thought all politicians were uncivil, he would have retorted today that the social media was quite often anti-social, so why this name?     Messages in the social media had many asking for him to be honoured in some way. Friends telephoned suggesting the government consider honouring him. George never believed in these "government certified" awards and was one of the prime movers in the Janata government of ’77 to having the Padma  awards abolished because, in some matters, even while in power, he repeated his typically held belief that “all governments are bad; some are worse”. It is another matter that Indira Gandhi had these awards restored by the court on her return. Consequently getting an award today is more a badge of political acceptability rather than a measure of true, unbiased merit.     This is a historical image of George Fernandes in chains after his arrest in 1976, published in Time magazine   Many speeches will be made, and books and articles will be written recalling the Emergency. The politicians of the Congress party will try to defend the indefensible as their opponents mount a new attack. George Fernandes will be mentioned honourably by those who knew him during those times, while those whom he attacked mercilessly will be happy he is silenced. However, personal memories may be extinguished in one mind, but important ones must be passed on to subsequent generations. The knowledge of what the Nehru-Gandhi family did to this country between 1975 and 1979 can never be allowed to be forgotten. Doing so would be letting down democracy, free speech, free will and the very self respect of a nation that wishes to stand tall before the world.
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