Mumbai: Former defence minister George Fernandes first shot into national prominence when he defeated Congress stalwart S K Patil in the 1967 parliamentary elections. He also had a strong Mumbai connection.
Recalling the veteran socialist's association with the city, CPI leader Prakash Reddy said Fernandes had in 1967 emerged as the "giant killer" by defeating Patil, who was then called the "uncrowned king of Bombay" and represented the Bombay South Lok Sabha seat.
Mumbai at that time had a tradition of strong labour force in the industrial sector, civic body and small businesses known as 'gumasta'.
Fernandes stood up for the workers of the civic body, BEST (Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport) undertaking and the gumasta workers and fought for their rights. He made a name for himself among the labour class in the 1960s, Reddy said.
"Patil was a very powerful leader. He was invincible. George said S K Patil can be defeated and decided to contest against him. He got the backing of the labour work force," the CPI leader recalled.
During the Sanyukta Maharashtra movement in 1950s and 1960s, the mood of people in Mumbai was anti-Congress since the party was perceived to be against the inclusion of Bombay into the state of Maharashtra.
"All major unions of the civic body, BEST and small businesses in Mumbai were set up by George Fernandes. This helped George defeat S K Patil, who was close to top industrialists," he said.
Before contesting the 1967 Lok Sabha poll, Fernandes had led a successful municipal workers' strike in Mumbai, he mentioned.
The Praja Socialist Party was headed by Madhu Dandawate and Fernandes headed the Sanyukta Socialist Party. Both the parties merged to form the Socialist Party and supported the Shiv Sena in the 1968 civic polls in Mumbai. The Socialist Party and Shiv Sena alliance won the civic polls that year.
"Fernandes was so much blinded by the anti-Congress and anti-Indira Gandhi sentiment that he compromised on his socialist ideology to support the dual membership of associating with the RSS, resulting in his fallout with trade union leader Sharad Rao," Reddy said.
Fernandes had also shared a close relationship with Shiv Sena supremo late Bal Thackeray. He was also among the very few to refer the Sena patriarch as 'Bal', city-based senior journalist Yogesh Trivedi remembered.
Fernandes passed away in Delhi Tuesday following a prolonged illness, his family sources said. He was 88. He was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and had recently contracted swine flu.
Updated Date: Jan 29, 2019 16:48:00 IST