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Sushma Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal narrates a story of how a proofreader in Times of India changed India’s political landscape

Swaraj Kaushal, husband of former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, has often taken to Twitter to let us know about the other side of his late wife we didn't know about.

Former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal is grieving her passing and seems to have taken to Twitter to let the world know about the other side of his wife most people may be unaware of. Late last night, he narrated a story about a man who worked as a proofreader in Mumbai office of Times of India.

A bachelor living in a chawl in Mumbai and working as proofreader, he had to work late hours. The landlady would not let him in the house between 11 PM and 5 AM. So, after his shift got over, the man would take a window seat in Mumbai buses and roam around on the streets, reading signboards.

He had no money for food, clothes but after spending few years like this, he learns reading Marathi. After becoming a fluent Marathi speaker, he quits his job as he was still not getting the day shift.

The man then comes in touch with a prominent trade union leader Placid D’Mello who took him under his wings. He also met the socialist leader Ram Manohar lohia who also was a great influence in his life. P D’Mello Road is a 6 KM road between south end of Eastern Freeway and north end of Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. Originally from Mangalore, just as the man in context was, D’Mello spent years organising dock workers around Mumbai’s Ballard Pier. The man later joined the socialist trade union movement and fought for rights of labourers in small scale service industries. He was a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation from 1961 to 1968. In 1967, General Elections, this former proofreader with Times of India fought and won on the Samyukta Socialist Party ticket for the Bombay South constituency against seasoned Congress leader S. K. Patil.

At around this time, Swaraj Kaushal, also a noted Supreme Court lawyer, met this man. As many had guessed it by now, the man who is being talked about is George Fernandes, who served as India’s Defence Minister.

Continuing his story, Swaraj Kaushal talked about Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency.

Kaushal and his wife, also a Supreme Court lawyer, defended Fernandes in the Baroda Dynamite case.

Baroda Dynamite Case

Indira Gandhi declared a state of Emergency on 25th June 1975, suspending all fundamental rights. Fernandes was amongst those who opposed the blatant misuse of power and a warrant was issued in his name. He later went underground to escape arrest and prosecution. His brother, Lawrence Fernandes was arrested and tortured by Police to find out George’s whereabouts.

Read: George Fernandes: The Socialist who refused to make the Faustian bargain with Gandhis

In July 1975, George Fernandes arrived in Vadodara (then Baroda), where he met journalists who were opposing the Emergency. Viren Shah, an industrialist, helped them procure dynamite which was supposed to be used to blow up government toilets and cause explosions near the venue of public meetings held by Indira Gandhi, without killing or harming anyone. A plan was hatched to blow up a dias days before Indira Gandhi was to address a meeting in Varanasi. This got to be known as the Baroda Dynamite Case.

Later Fernandes decided he will contest the upcoming elections from Baroda, but Morarji Desai was opposed to this idea.

A new constituency was decided. Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He was still in jail even though the Emergency was lifted. He had to win otherwise he would be in prison for rest of his life. His mother didn’t know Hindi, so who’d campaign for him?

This is where Swaraj Kaushal informs us about a lady who presented herself as his sister, a great orator in Hindi, who campaigned for him.

While Swaraj Kaushal left it on people to decide who the ‘sister’ might be who campaigned for Fernandes, people had quite correctly guessed it was his wife, former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Defence Minister

Fernandes was the Defence Minister during the 1998-2004 NDA government and it was during his tenure that the Kargil War broke out between India and Pakistan in 1999. He was also the Defence Minister when India conducted the nuclear tests at the Pokhran range in Rajasthan in 1998. While he earlier opposed nuclear disarmament, he endorsed the NDA government’s decision to test nuclear bombs.

Coffin scandal

In 2002, Fernandes was accused of purchasing 500 poor quality aluminium caskets from the United States at 13 times the price to transport the bodies of slain Kargil soldiers. The Supreme Court eventually dismissed the investigation saying that there was no scam. The CBI found no evidence of any wrongdoing. The Comptroller and Auditor General, in a report, had alleged that ministers including Defence Minister Fernandes and others filled their pockets by making purchases at exorbitant rates in the name of slain soldiers. Congress milked the ‘scam’ which never was which came up with the ‘kafan chor’ call. A controversy which had stemmed from a clerical error eventually played a pivotal role in the BJP and NDA losing 2004 General Elections.

Fernandes breathed his last in January 2019 and Swaraj passed away in August 2019. The two of them have in their own way changed the political landscape of India.

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