Updated: September 13, 2021 10:36:32 pm
The year was 1983. After a hard day’s work, three young general secretaries of the Congress’s students wing NSU(I) took off to watch a late night movie in Delhi. But they were in for a surprise when halfway through the movie a slide with their names appeared on the screen asking them to contact the theatre manager.
The surprised trio – Ganesh Shankar Pandey, Pradyut Guha and Subodh Kumar – reached the manager’s office. Awaiting them there was a message from Oscar Fernandes, who was then an AICC joint secretary attached to party general secretary Rajiv Gandhi, who was in charge of the frontal organisations.
The three had been given some organisational tasks and Fernandes was waiting to hear from them till late in the night. When there was no word from them, Fernandes reached the NSU(I) office only to hear that the three had gone for a movie. The folklore in the Congress circles was that Fernandes got a senior police official to direct some of the movie halls in the city to insert the slide in between the movie.
Pandey, or for that matter several senior leaders of the party, remembers Fernandes as a 24×7 politician in every sense of the word. It was a common sight to see a long queue of visitors at Fernandes’s residence even after midnight when he was the Labour Minister in the Manmohan Singh II government.
Party leaders remember him as an affable, soft-spoken and humble personality who truly believed that politics was about working for the “have-nots”. And he was an out and out organisational man.
Pandey fondly remembers that he had later complained to Gandhi that they should be allowed some free time at least at night. “I think it was Odeon cinema or Plaza. And the movie, if I remember correctly, was Prem Rog. Bajrang Lal was then the Police Commissioner. I think Fernandesji urged the Commissioner to ask the theatre to run the slide. The next day when we met Rajivji…we told him…Rajivji we are young boys…at least we should be allowed to enjoy the night,” Pandey remembers.
“Fernandesji was so committed and so passionate about work,” he adds.
And it was Fernandes’s hard work that prompted Gandhi to appoint him as a parliamentary secretary attached to him in December 1984 when he took over as the Prime Minister. The other two were Arun Singh and Ahmed Patel.
Fernandes was then in his first term as Lok Sabha MP from Udupi. He was elected to Lok Sabha five times and elected to Rajya Sabha four times. Having begun his electoral career as a member of the municipal council of Udupi after doing farming for several years, Fernandes became an MP for the first time in 1980 at the age of 39. He was handpicked by Sanjay Gandhi to contest the Lok Sabha seat from Udupi.
After Sanjay’s death, he became a close associate and loyalist of Rajiv Gandhi, who first appointed him as one of the joint secretaries to assist him in organisational matters and then made him a parliamentary secretary. “He worked over 18 hours a day… and the dedication impressed Rajiv,” a leader said. “He was unflappable. Never lost his cool… was always smiling and affectionate towards everyone,” a senior leader said.
Rajiv also appointed him as President of Karnataka Congress in 1986.
Although he became an MP in 1980, Fernandes could enter the union council of ministers only in 2004 when was appointed Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. He held the portfolios of Youth Affairs and Sports and Overseas Indian Affairs and Labour and Employment. In 2013, he became a cabinet minister in charge of Road Transport and Highways.
While Fernandes stayed away from controversies all through his life, his association with the Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) by Young Indian Pvt Ltd (YIL) became controversial. Apart from the Gandhis, late Congress leader Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda were also named in the case. According to documents, 76 per cent of shareholding of YIL is with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, while the remaining 24 per cent vests in the others named in the case.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.