George: The

11 May, 1998    ·   85

GP Deshpande places Defence Minister George Fernandes in perspective

George Fernandes is an exceptional and fascinating personality in Indian politics. A socialist and once the leading labour leader of Mumbai, he follows his ideologue, the late Dr. Lohia and his formulations on socialism and social transformation in India . These formulations have an anarchic element in them, giving all socialists (in India ) an unpredictable quality to their pronouncements. They tend to be temperamental, impulsive and not quite fitting the mode of cabinet-government. George Fernandes is the most outstanding example of this group of politicians. He may make an earth-shaking statement one moment and be inexplicably silent the next.



These socialists have a fascination for grand designs. In two earlier Governments led by Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral, Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Defence Minister. He stated on more than one occasion that a confederation of India and Pakistan was the solution to the problems between them. One need not question either his sincerity or his faithful repetition of his mentor’s (i.e. Dr. Lohia's) grand solution to Indo-Pak problems. One need not also question the fact that the socialist prescription of a return to pre-partition India was radically different from the Hindu nationalists view of a United India (Akhand Bharat). The difficulty however is that the long term, ultimate goals of a foreign policy cannot be the policy itself. Socialists have rarely seen this difference. To them, it does not matter if the policies leading to such a confederation over the next few decades are never spelt out. They seem to think that if one has an ideal picture, it must be realisable and the details need never be looked into. Mulayam Singh Yadav therefore, went on repeating whenever he could that India and Pakistan should form a confederation. "How" and "when" are questions that socialists are much too impatient to answer.



George Fernandes had earlier been a railway Minister (in 1989). Within a week of becoming minister he declared his support to the cause of independent Tibet . It should have been obvious that a cabinet minister, especially the one in charge of railways, could not have made a statement announcing a fundamental change in government policy on China and Tibet , even assuming that such a change was indeed desirable or feasible. George, though, cannot be prevented from taking a position.



Something similar has happened yet again. He announced that the Chinese have built a helipad in Arunachal Pradesh. Two days later his own Prime Minister denied it. He seems to be convinced that Pakistan 's nuclear programme is of China 's making. He is convinced too that the US does not understand India 's security and especially nuclear concerns. He articulates his convictions in a manner that few defence ministers would want to emulate. He projects an image of a hard line nationalist. That he is a nationalist from the era of anti-colonialism is beyond doubt. However, the socialists in India are given to a bit of foreign policy bravado. Generally, all this blowing hot on China , India ’s nuclear programme and our security concerns may be no more than a part of that bravado. In an era of coalition politics this may even be necessary. In the early days of such a government, one has to create an impression…a lot is happening…a lot is about to happen! The reality is that a lot is being said. But then that has been the art of socialist politics in India and George is its greatest practitioner.