Calling him one of the “greatest and bravest” fighters for civil rights during the Emergency era, friends and supporters of George Fernandes have pitched for awarding Bharat Ratna to the veteran socialist leader.
“On his 86th birthday this June 3, celebrations were held across the country from Patna to Muzaffarpur, Mumbai and Delhi and resolutions were passed seeking Bharat Ratna for George,” said Fernandes’ 76-year-old colleague Vijay Narain.
Narain and others along with Fernandes were arrested on June 10, 1976 in Kolkata and tried in the infamous Baroda Dynamite Case, in which they were also charged with waging war against the state to overthrow the government.
“Today marks the 40th anniversary of his arrest during the Emergency. He was champion of civil rights, and struggled for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden and the farmers. And, we think he deserves to be given Bharat Ratna,” he said.
Narain said, however, we will not approach the government for the award, but raise the consciousness among the people, whose leader he was, and let the demand come from the masses.
“We will only popularise his ideals, his struggles and pitch for it (Bharat Ratna), but he is anyway beyond this award. We only want this for him so that the future generation will remember him,” he said.
86-year-old Fernandes, who rose to prominence after the 1973 railway strike, had staunchly opposed the imposition of Emergency. He and several of his colleagues went under hiding during this period and continued to oppose the Emergency.
After remaining in disguise and operating out of hideouts, Fernandes, Narain and their other colleagues were arrested from St Paul’s Church in Kolkata.
“George was flown the same night to Delhi, while I was kept in police custody and interrogated for about a fortnight in Kolkata by the police’s intelligence bureau. We all were later lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail and the case was tried in Tees Hazari court,” he recalled.
“Several ambassadors of foreign countries used to meet him in jail and even tried to seek his release. George was a hero for many,” Narain said.
He also alleged that the “BJP-ruled government, driven by RSS is trying to impose one-party rule in the country, which is more dangerous than the Emergency which we had faced back then.”
Emergency was in effect from 25 June, 1975 until its withdrawal in March 1977.
Fernandes fought the 1977 Lok Sabha election from Muzaffarpur while in jail as an undertrial in the case. He swept the polls with his supporters campaigning with his photo. After coming to power, Janata Party withdrew the case in 1977 and all the accused were released.