My tryst with George, the giant killer, took place in the BEST union office, Bombay, in 1960. The mystique of George would be born there with his victory in 1967 over the Congress czar, S K Patil. It seems ironic that our first encounter should be on my return from the University of Cincinnati. I was a socialist, initiated at 16 by Jayaprakash Narayan, in the presence of my father, Padmaprabha Gouder. But it was only after meeting George that I joined the socialist party of Ram Manohar Lohia.
My last meeting was a couple of months ago, in the presence of his wife, Leila. Unfortunately, he was beyond recognising anyone. I would rather dwell on more pleasant memories. Usha, my wife, and I, were among the few to attend his marriage. They spent their honeymoon in Ananda Mandiram, Puliyarmala, my ancestral home in Wayanad. A fond memory is of a dinner hosted for me by George in Delhi where a woman was present. Towards the end, he revealed that Leila, Humayun Kabir’s daughter, was his fiancée.
George had a sharp tongue. When we met our communist comrades, including General Secretary P Sundarayya in September, 1973, in Delhi to discuss a radical alternative, M Basavapunniah remarked: “George, you are all very young, and we are all too old”. Pat came George’s rejoinder: “The generations are meeting.”
Promode Dasgupta, then West Bengal State Secretary, P Ramamurti and EMS were the other delegates. Prem Bhasin, Madhu Limaye, Ramanand Tiwari, Surendra Mohan and I were those who attended this dialogue. Our contemporaries included Karpoori Thakur, N G Gorai, Madhu Dandawate, Mrinal Gore, G H Patel, Gopal Gowda among others. The aura of George, surpassing all of them, reached its apotheosis with the 1974 railway strike. I remember the response to his motorcade in Kerala. A K Antony had remarked to me: “Are you storming Kerala?” The late socialist Arangil Sreedharan and I translated his speeches. I still recollect the way people used to approach George just to touch him.
At Benares, the Socialist Party of India and the Praja Socialist Party merged. Karpoori became the chairman and George the secretary of the new Samyukta Socialist Party. George offered me the post of treasurer, which I accepted. In 1975, the Emergency was clamped. As convenor of the Left Front in Kerala, I went underground as directed by AKG. George held a clandestine meeting in the late M S Appa Rao’s house in Chennai. I recall George with a beard grown as disguise. Suddenly we were informed that the police was going to surround the house and George was smuggled out on the underside of a car.
George was in charge of the campaign in the Chikmagalur by-election in 1978. Mrs Gandhi was pitted against Veerendra Patil of the Janata Party. In a firing by the police of the Devraj Urs government in Belthangady, Gayathri, a young girl, was killed. George’s eyes were brimming when he bade her a public farewell in an emotion-choked voice.
Once, during a political crisis in Karnataka, there was a move to install Gopal Gowda at the head of a coalition. General Secretary George objected to it and carried the day. I was chosen as the bearer of the tidings to the MLA quarters, Bengaluru, where Gopal, Nagaraj and others were waiting. Where a lesser man would have rebelled, Gopal merely quipped: “So Veeran, none of you want me to be the CM. Fine, I will continue to be a party man.” Knowing my friendship with Gopal, I still maintain that George should not have made me the messenger of doom.
George was for the merger of us socialists with Cong (O), BKD of Charan Singh and the Jana Sangh. Arangil and I were for an alliance; but we were in a minority and had to go along with the majority opinion. When the Morarji government fell, we did not join this faction and from then on our paths diverged.
George and I have lived our lives in politics. Though we ended up in opposing camps, our camaraderie of more than half a century, forged in the blood and iron of peoples’ struggles, was impervious to partisan affiliations.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP