George Fernandes: India's first Defense Minister who visited Siachen Glacier 18 times
George Fernandes: India's first Defense Minister who visited Siachen Glacier 18 times

New Delhi: Former Defence Minister George Fernandes was born on  June 3, 1930, in New Delhi.   Fernandes was fluent in 10 languages - Hindi, English, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Urdu, Malayalam, Tulu, Konkani and Latin. His mother was a big fan of King George V. He named the eldest of his six children George after him. India tested the atomic bomb when George, an opponent of bombs, was the Defense Minister. Growing up in Mangalore, Fernandes was sent to a Christian missionary to study as a priest when he was 16 years old. But seeing the hypocrisy in the church, they became disillusioned with him. He left the church at the age of 18 and moved to Bombay in search of employment. George met Laila Kabir during an air trip. Laila was the daughter of former Union minister Humayun Kabir. The two dated each other for some time and then got married. They have a son, Sean Fernandes, who is an investment banker in New York. It is said that later, when George's closeness to Jaya Jaitley increased, Laila left him.  

George himself had told that during this time he used to sleep on the bench of Chowpatty and continuously participated in the programs of the Socialist Party and trade union movement. Fernandes' initial image was that of a formidable rebel. Ram Manohar Lohia, an outspoken speaker at that time, was Fernandes' inspiration. By 1950, he became the undisputed king of the taxi drivers union. Some people had since called him a 'relentless rebel' (rebel without a pause). For hundreds and thousands of poor people in Bombay, he was a hero, a messiah. Meanwhile, in the 1967 Lok Sabha elections, he contested against SK Patil, one of the biggest Congress leaders of that time. When he defeated Patil from this seat in Bombay South, people also started calling him 'George the Giant Killer'. In 1973, Fernandes was elected chairman of the All India Railwaymen's Federation. At that time, about 14 lakh people used to work in the Indian Railways.  

George Fernandes believed that non-violent satyagraha was not the only way to fight for justice. Fernandes won the 1977 Lok Sabha election from Muzaffarpur Lok Sabha seat with a record number of votes while in jail. He was made the Minister of Industry in the Janata Party government. Later the Janata Party broke up, Fernandes formed his own party Samata Party and supported the BJP. Fernandes held a total of three ministries in his political career - Industries, Railways and Defence. But they were not very successful in any of these. The credit for the development of Konkan Railway may go to him, but during his tenure as Defense Minister, the credit for nuclear testing and Operation Parakram was given to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. George is the only Defence Minister of India to have visited the 6,600-metre-high Siachen Glacier 18 times.  

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