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When Sudarshanbaba aka George Fernandes took refuge in Ahmedabad

Socialist leader stayed in disguise for two months in A'bad during emergency, recalls former editor, political critic Prakash N Shah

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When Sudarshanbaba aka George Fernandes took refuge in Ahmedabad
Activists remember socialist leader George Fernandes
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Activists from different walks of life in Ahmedabad remembered socialist leader George Fernandes, who passed away on Tuesday. People remember him for his role in the opposition movement against the national emergency as well as other popular movements.

Prakash N Shah, editor of Nireekshak and political critic, recalled how Fernandes took refuge in Ahmedabad during the national emergency (1975-77). "He disguised himself as 'Sudarshanbaba'. He stayed here for about two months," said Shah. Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were the only states ruled by non-Congress governments at the time. Babubhai Jashbhai Patel of Jan Morcha was chief minister in Gujarat and the state acted as a safe hideout for many opposition leaders.

George Fernandes was the main accused in the 'Baroda Dynamite Case' wherein he had taken help from a local strongman in politics. Education activist and former convenor of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat, Sukhdev Patel, had then just started university education and was given the task to pick up national leaders from railway stations and drop them at safe places. Once, he happened to pick up George Fernandes, but was not aware of his identity as Fernandes had disguised himself. "Everything was written in code. Leaders came disguised in different costumes. We were very young. Information was not shared with us for the fear of it getting leaked. It was after the emergency that we found out whom we had served. One of them was George Fernandes," said Patel.

Fernandes later became the industries minister in Morarji Desai's Janata Party government, railways minister in V P Singh's cabinet and finally, defence minister in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister.

Ashok Punjabi, vice president in Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, remembered Fernandes as his first political guru. In 1968, Fernandes was a first-time Member of Parliament, defeating S K Patil from Bombay. After the Tashkent Agreement between India and Pakistan, Pakistan had sought 2,000 square km of land in Kutch. George Fernandes was among a host of leaders who opposed giving any land to Pakistan. They had then started 'Kutch ki dharti, desh ki dharti' movement. He had visited Adarsh Mahavidyalaya in Gandhidham where Ashok was a student of class 10. A hundred students were chosen to present the voice of Kutch across the country.

"One day, George Fernandes told me that I will be taken to the visitors' gallery in the Lok Sabha and when he starts his speech, I have to start the slogan 'Kutch ki dharti, desh ki dharti' and throw pamphlets in the house. I did what I was told. Then I was taken to a room in the Parliament, where I was kept for the rest of the day. In the evening George Fernandes picked me up. This marked my entry into politics and so, George Fernandes is my first political guru," Punjabi told DNA.

IN DISGUISE

Fernandes was the main accused in the ‘Baroda Dynamite Case’ wherein he had taken help from a local strongman in politics. Education activist and former convenor of AAP in Guj Sukhdev Patel had served him without knowing his identity. It was after the Emergency that they found out his real identity

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