West indian literature

George Fernandes biography hits newsstands next month

A new biography of one of India’s most incendiary labor leaders and former central minister George Fernandes will trace his journey from the streets of Bombay to the halls of power in Delhi, the Penguin Random House India (PRHI) reported on Saturday.

“The Life and Times of George Fernandes,” written by Rahul Ramagundam, will be released under Penguin’s “Allen Lane” imprint on July 25.

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The announcement of the “first full biography” on the veteran socialist leader, widely considered an anti-emergency hero, marks the 47th anniversary of the emergency.

Fernandes, born June 3, 1930 in Mangalore into a Christian family, exploded into the national spotlight when as a trade unionist in Mumbai he organized a 1974 railway strike that paralyzed the country.

He became Minister of Railways in 1989 under Vice President Singh’s National Front coalition government, made up mainly of left-wing parties.

Fernandes died in January 2019 at the age of 88 after a long illness.

“For 12 long years I have lived in George’s mind, explored his soul, questioned his choices, traveled with him through his ups and downs. Just as he did in pursuit of his politics, I have staked a lot of things, family and friendships, work and joys, in writing this biography,” said Ramagundam, who also wrote “Gandhi’s Khadi” and “Including the Socially Excluded.”

“I watched microfilms of newspapers on dimly lit screens of time-worn machines. His private collection of more than a hundred thousand documents has sharpened in me a sort of historian’s greed. The delusional boredom of making a story out of these disparate papers strangely never tired me,” he added.

Fernandes became a key figure in the struggle to restore democracy after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed an emergency in 1975.

A photograph of Fernandes, with his shock of shaggy hair, raising a handcuffed hand in defiance remains one of the most enduring images from this era Fernandes later joined the BJP-led NDA government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister in 1998 and 1999, in which he was appointed Minister of Defence. Under his leadership, India fought the Kargil War in 1999. It was also during his tenure that India conducted a nuclear test at Pokhran in 1998.

According to the editors, the biography is a must-read not only for those interested in learning more about Fernandes, but “also for those who are curious about history and read different accounts of the situations that changed the course of this nation.”

“The life and politics of George Fernandes have fascinated people from all walks of life. His commitment to fight for the rights of the working class; its role during the emergency; and his obsession with defeating the all-powerful Congress Party from its dominance in Indian politics finds characteristic expression in this book,” said Premanka Goswami, Associate Editor, PRHI.

“The Life and Times of George Fernandes” is currently available for pre-order on all major e-commerce sites.

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