by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 1, 2019
Indian politician George Fernandes, variously tagged as ‘a socialist firebrand’, ‘fighter of lost causes’ passed into history on January 29, 2019. Many Eelam Tamils and sympathizers of the demand of Eelam Tamils were undoubtedly saddened by this news. He was a rarity among Indian politicians, and his public life and political career had been reminisced by many commentators. I will not deal with his Indian politics.
Fernandes was a rarity in that, next to beloved MGR, he was the only ranking Indian politician with some degree of clout in the corridors of New Delhi, to consistently support the LTTE and the cause of Tamils. This he did, even though he was NOT a Tamilian by birth or pedigree. I rank Indian politicians into three categories.
First category, is those who supported the LTTE constantly. Only MGR and George Fernandes belong to this category. Of course, there are Vaiko (aka V. Gopalaswamy) and Pazha Nedumaran. But these two didn’t have any clout in the corridors of New Delhi.
Second category belongs to the opportunist, grandstanding type of M. Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha and Dr. S.Ramadoss of Patali Makkal Katchi (PMK). They would claim that they support the cause of Eelam Tamils, but would never identify with LTTE.
Third category is those of money bag Poo Bah, Palaniappan Chidambaram of Congress Party and irritant noise makers Subramanian Swamy and ‘Cho’ Ramasamy, who would even hesitate to utter the word ‘Puli’ (Tiger) in Tamil, though being ethnic Tamilians.
To remember George Fernandes, I provide scans from the ‘Hot Spring’(London) magazine issue of Nov-Dec. 1997, edited by S. Sivanayagam. This issue featured Fernandes in the cover, in two pages of his views on LTTE in a commentary and a brief interview.
Much had been written by Indian commentators on the political antagonism between Fernandes and Indira Gandhi, the prime minister. But, these writers failed to note a significant fact that on the Eelam Tamil issue, both Indira Gandhi and Fernandes were on the same side in antagonizing the Sinhala State of Sri Lanka.
In April 1999, Jayalalitha (then holding the Chief Minister position of Tamil Nadu) confronted the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee by demanding that George Fernandes (who was the then Defence Minister) be dismissed! Her peeve was that Fernandes had ousted the then naval chief Adm. Vishnu Bhagwat who had questioned,
“Why are LTTE, Burmese and the northeastern rebels operating from the house of the Defence Minister?” [‘The Admiral speaks out’, by Sukumar Muralidharan, Frontline (Chennai), Feb.27, 1999]. According to an India Today report, “Among the reasons cited by Defence Minister George Fernandes in his cabinet note of December 26 for seeking removal of Bhagwat was his boorishness.” [‘Naval chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat sacked for ‘defiance of civilian authority’, India Today, Jan.11, 1999]. May be, in this trait of boorishness, both Bhagwat and Jayalalitha shared the same plank. Vajpayee stood his ground and didn’t bow to Jayalalitha’s whims. R.L. Luxman drew an apt cartoon portraying imperious Jayalalitha as a poison spider, attempting to trap Vajpayee!
The memory of Fernandes will live in the hearts of Eelam Tamils, for his staunch support to the separate state cause.