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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK
George Fernandes: The trouble shooter
George Fernandes surrounded by reporters
Fernandes' commitments have changed with time
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By Rajesh Joshi
of the BBC Hindi service

George Fernandes came to the Indian government's rescue once again on Tuesday.

But this time, his comments surprised even the staunchest hardliners in the main governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Speaking during the censure motion in the parliament, Mr Fernandes said this was not the first time India had suffered communal rioting on such a scale.

His target was the main opposition Congress Party.

Mr Fernandes said riots had taken place during the Congress Party rule as well.

He gave the example of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

His comments came as a surprise to the Home Minister LK Advani who is struggling hard to change his tough image.

At a time when the Gujarat Government is facing widespread criticism for its handling of the violence, Mr Fernandes' outspoken defence shows a marked shift in his stance.

Born rebel?

Mr Fernandes has always been counted among those promoting the politics of ideology.

He considers himself to be a rebel and prefers to be called a socialist.

George Fernandes
George Fernandes: Changing stance

Mr Fernandes emerged as a hero during the days of internal emergency when, beginning in 1975, civil rights were suspended for 18 months.

During that period he was charged with conspiring to blow up government installations.

The government later withdrew the charge.

After the emergency, Mr Fernandes declared, "I will always remain in the opposition".

But he became railway minister in the Janata Party-led government soon afterwards.

Observers say Mr Fernandes has since been trying to be in the government.

Shifting stance

In 1994, George Fernandes launched his own Samta Party.

He said he would never ever forge a political or electoral alliance with the BJP.

Atal Behari Vajpayee
The prime minister is increasingly relying on him

Those were the times when Mr Fernandes was considered to be a staunch secularist.

No party was willing to be seen as an ally of the BJP which was being blamed for the demolition of the controversial Babri mosque in Ayodhya two years earlier.

All this while, Mr Fernandes was in talks with the BJP leadership and finally, in 1998, he joined the BJP-led government.

Since then Mr Fernandes has emerged as the principal crisis manager of the Vajpayee government.

Whether it was the attacks on Christians or the murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines, Mr Fernandes defended the government, blaming "foreign conspiracy" for the violence.

New definition

In recent years, Mr Fernandes has been re-defining his secular socialist ideology.

His critics say he has sacrificed his secular credentials ever since he became an ally of the BJP.

When questioned about the change in his stance, Mr Fernandes brushes aside the criticism saying, "there are two types of people in India, those who are secular and those who are normal".

He counts himself among the normal.


Some observers say whenever Mr Fernandes feels ignored he does something unusual to attract attention.

He recently attended a meeting of Swadeshi Jagran Manch, which has been opposing the government's economic policies. Mr Fernandes joined them in launching a scathing attack on the government.

At that time, he was under investigation for his alleged role in the arms bribery scandal and had been forced to resign from the cabinet.

He was soon re-inducted into the ministry.

Observers say Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee needs George Fernandes to keep the governing coalition together.

Mr Fernandes is aware of that and that is why he is not in the opposition.

See also:

29 Nov 01 | South Asia
Indian defence minister row goes on
23 Oct 01 | South Asia
Security fears for Indian minister
22 May 01 | South Asia
Talks to resolve India coalition rift
16 Mar 01 | South Asia
India orders arms scandal inquiry
16 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal shakes Indian Government
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