I was 7. He was 47. I was free. He was jailed.
It was 1977, my first political rally in home town Muzaffarpur. And I was rallying behind George – George Fernandes.
My father, a Congressman, due to some serious differences with Congress leadership, was supporting George and was the brain behind the famous poster in which the firebrand socialist leader was shown holding up his handcuffed hands from behind the prison bars.
It was election time and the poster became an instant hit, penetrating deep into voters’ mind. The idea set people into motion.
People also liked my father’s idea of a moving truck with a vivid description of the jailed leader.
In Muzaffarpur, George was little known. But my father and George’s socialist ideas made the difference.
And though an innocent kid, I was moved by George’s handcuffed images. On Sundays and holidays, I would follow the electioneering truck carrying George’s posters and would join people at cross-roads in shouting: “Jail ka phaatak tootega, George Fernandes chhootega” (prison gates will break and George Fernandes will be free).
One evening, I had unexpected visitors in my house – George’s wife and mother. That night itself, George’s then lawyer Sushma Swaraj also came to address a late night rally in my town which was to serve as his constituency. It was a massive rally. Equally plotting was Swaraj’s speech. And before she spoke, I jumped to the dais when my sister recited a patriotic song amid round of applause. Such an excitement at such a tender age.
When I met George as an adult, I never told him all these. I thought my family’s contributions were too small in his long journey. Also, I was afraid if he would recall such little gestures.
He gave me a patient hearing exactly five years ago when I went to discuss the trade union situation in my company Press Trust of India (PTI). He was convinced. Immediately, he raised the issue in Parliament. Then, he also petitioned the Indian Legislature, narrating the situation in India’s premier media company – PTI. And when he could not attend one of my rallies in New Delhi, he did not forget to send me a letter. Oh George! I’m grateful.
As a journalist, I am not expected to subscribe to any political party or sing for a politician. But my heart beats for every honest person who is in politics – be it George Fernandes or Manmohan Singh. Today, I am sad over the fact that some people are trying to exploit the dire situation George is in. His condition is as dilapidated as his New Delhi’s Krishna Menon Marg house.
I had chosen to remain silent when my hometown Muzaffarpur wrote George’s political obituary during 2009 parliamentary elections. I kept quiet when George baiters planted stories in the media that he had huge money and that his wife, son and brother were coming back to him, after decades, primarily for money. I did not speak when George’s long-time associate Jaya Jaitley was accused of eying his millions!
My best source tells me that just few months back George had visited top lawyer Fali S. Nariman to request him to draft papers related to his assets. George wanted his worldly goods to be shared between his son and some social causes. But the draft could not be finalized owing to his son’s lack of interest in his possessions.
This revelation and absurd plants in the media have pained me. I find that there is a filthy move by some vested interests to wipe out the socialist image of George from people’s mind. They want to paint George, his family and Jaya black. The dispute over George’s property is unnecessary and reckless. Mindless.
Today, I’m 40. He is 80. I am young. He is old. I’m kicking and chirpy. He is recuperating and cheerless.
It is frustrating, though, to learn that George is being kept in isolation. He’s a peoples’ man. Much ahead of his death, please do not put him in dirty coffin. I want him back.