Leap of faith: From seminary to trade union movement

P. Manoj |Rahul Wadke | | Updated on: Jan 29, 2019
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Former Defence Minister George Fernandes studied at a Christian seminary to become a priest but went on to become a trade union leader whose word was gospel for lakhs of workers, said 89-year-old banker Ranjit Bhanu.

Bhanu is the Chairman of the New India Co-Operative Bank Ltd, which was co-founded by Fernandes in 1968. Till the end of March, 2018, the bank had deposits of ₹2,547 crore and advances of ₹1,168 crore.

Bhanu, who is also a criminal lawyer and a trade unionist, recounting the veteran leader’s qualities said ‘simplicity thy name is George’. India has lost a unique leader, he cannot be compared with others. He started his career as a trade union leader but he rose to prominence when he defeated senior Congress leader S K Patil in Parliamentary elections of 1967. Patil was known as the uncrowned king of Mumbai due to his grip over the city, he said.

Welfare of workers

Bhanu added that in 1967, Fernandes was invited to visit West Germany where he was inspired by the model of the German Labour Bank, which was a bridge between workers and businessmen. It lead to the formation of the Bombay Labour Co operative Bank Ltd in 1968, which today has metomorphosed into the New India Co-Operative Bank and continues to work for the welfare of the worker and the businessman.

A friend of Fernandes and political analyst, Nagesh Kesari said that the former Defence Minister was not only a good orator but a principled leader, who had great ability to rally the workers for a cause. He could engage across the political spectrum but never deviated from his principles.

General Secretary of the Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (HMKP), Subash Malgi, who has been his associate for the last 55 years said that while participating in the Indian railway strike in 1974, Fernandes was in a dilemma while standing for the presidentship of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), which was the largest rail union in the country.

Leadership of the AIRF was pivotal for a successful strike but for that to happen, Fernandes, who also the Chairman of the Socialist Party had to fight his own comrade and party’s General Secretary, Peter Alvares. Fernandes was hesitant but when he realised that the rail workers’ solidarity was at stake, he filed the nomination papers.

Published on January 29, 2019

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