You can feel that an era is coming to an end. The big names of the Vajpayee era are leaving us, one by one. Dr Kalam is no more. Atalji is no more. Madan Lal Khurana is no more. And now George Fernandes passes away.
Now, I am no socialist, but yes I am capable of looking beyond that to appreciate a man with sincerely held beliefs. And a working moral compass.
George Fernandes raising his shackled hand at the time of the Emergency. A show of defiance against a real dictator. At a time when our compromised liberal media is falling over itself to celebrate someone because she “looks like Indira”, this picture should give pause to the masses. A moment to reflect what Indira Gandhi really stood for.
I wasn’t born at the time the Emergency happened. For kids of my generation, this was the image of George Fernandes that got stuck in our heads.
I was a schoolboy at the time. I did not understand very much. But perhaps it was this simplicity that gave me clarity. I had not studied intersectional woke feminist theory at JNU, but I did understand the rules of the playground. Which was that the weak would get beaten. And studying the history of India in the school curriculum, even the sanitized version they gave us, could not hide the fact that our side had been beaten over and over again.
Subdued. Oppressed. Plundered. For one thousand years. Colonized and then broken apart.
It just made so much sense to get these nuclear weapons. At the time I was not even sure what ‘nuclear’ meant, but I did understand it was a kind of “super weapon”, that it would make India invincible for all of history to come. And that all other nations of the world were really angry and jealous that we had successfully built this ultimate weapon.
So these three men in this picture: Atalji, Dr Kalam and George Fernandes, felt like heroes. More like superheroes who were defending us against the world. An Indian version of the Justice League. All three men have passed away. But the strong nation they built endures.
The Vajpayee era was the transition, the period that brought India from darkness to the light. India was still coming to terms with the ashes of Nehruvian socialism. India was still coming to terms with the reforms of 1991, rubbing its eyes and trying to understand the bold new world. We had been asleep for forty years. The world had passed us by.
We did not know if the new world even had a place for us. Whether we would survive.
It was during the Vajpayee era that India realized we could win. That the bold new world could be ours. Words like “economic growth” and GDP entered the Indian political lexicon. Today we see BJP and Congress sparring over who has delivered better GDP growth. This would have been unthinkable before the Vajpayee years. At the time, GDP growth was almost a dirty word. Politicians spoke in whispers about growing the GDP, worried that it could get them tagged as “anti-poor”! This was the upside down, absurd Nehruvian superstition under which the Indian masses toiled.
Vajpayee took the bull by the horns. In 2004, he paid the price for a nation that still, by and large, did not trust economic growth. But he transformed the nation forever.
Ultimately, individuals don’t matter. Only the nation does.
There is another unforgettable image of George Fernandes that comes to mind. It is of an enraged George Fernandes making sure that Sonia Gandhi’s photograph was pulled down from the Constitution Club where it had been placed beside Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Dr Rajendra Prasad.
“Mujhe lagta hai kisi ghulam ke aulaad ne ye kaam kiya hai (I think someone with a slave mentality must have done this)” he said of the person who had placed the photograph there, before adding, “Desh kya in logon ne khaareed liya aake .. Nehru khandaan (Have these Nehru dynasts bought the country?)”
Spoken with the same defiant spirit with which he raised his shackled hand in protest against Indira Gandhi all those years ago. With the clear conscience of a man who knows that his moral compass cannot be hijacked by hypocrisy.
George Fernandes was slandered endlessly by slimy media organizations and sleazy sting operations and during the coffin scam. But his truth endured.
George Fernandes has now passed into history. Om Shanti.
But the resurgent India that took shape during the Vajpayee years will keep going from strength to strength. Even if the heroes of that era are no more. Observe that the period from 1991 to 2004 was the period when the Nehru Dynasty was least relevant in Indian politics. Observe that this is the period when India renewed its march towards greatness.
If there is one regret that I feel, it is that the lion of India’s reforms did not get the farewell he deserved. They say that the Government of India could not even provide flowers and carpets when P V Narasimha Rao passed away in December 2004. His body was shunted to Hyderabad, denied a funeral in Delhi. Which is perhaps okay, because just Delhi isn’t India. We the people. We are India. And the heroes of the 1991-2004 era, who revived our great nation, will be fondly remembered forever. Jai Hind.