Wednesday, July 25, 2012

George Fernandes ends ties with city

A few decades ago, when George Fernandes was on top of his game as the country's most powerful trade union leader, his hold over the BMC, BEST and the taxi drivers was so complete that every time he called for a Mumbai bandh, the city was brought to its knees.

Last Friday (July 20), 82-year-old Fernandes, battling Alzheimer's disease, ended his last remaining connection with Mumbai's trade unions when he quit as Mumbai Taximen's Union president.

The Union, which he founded in 1960, not only accepted the resignation - forwarded by Fernandes's wife Leila Kabir - it also announced a new president: Rajya Sabha member Hussain Dalwai.

The Union's general secretary, A L Quadros confirmed the development, saying: "The decision to co-opt Hussain Dalwai as the Union's president was taken at the managing committee meeting on July 20. Mr Fernandes has conveyed that he was no longer able to carry out the duties required of him as the Union's president due to health reasons. The election to the post was due only in 2014; hence we used a special provision to co-opt Dalwai as president."

Dalwai confirmed that he had accepted the Union's offer, and said he will take over as the Union's president at a meeting on July 29. Senior union leader and Fernandes's former colleague Frederick D'Sa, who is president of the Mumbai Autorickshawmen's Union and the taxi union-backed Taximen's Services Limited, said that deteriorating health was the only reason for Fernandes's resignation. "I have known him for the past 41 years, and can't express the sadness with which we had to accept his decision to quit. We are letting him go with a heavy heart," he said.

Despite repeated attempts, Leila Kabir remained unavailable for comment.

The Taximen's Services Limited, which owns three petrol pumps (at Dadar, Bandra and Goregaon), was Fernandes's idea, to give the union members quality fuel on monthly credit and also soft loans to buy cabs, spare-parts and other such facilities. He also set up the Bombay Labour Co-operative Bank in 1968, now known as the New India Co-operative Bank, which has Quadros, D'Sa and Fernandes's other colleagues on the managing committee.

 George and Mumbai

» A native of Mangalore, George Fernandes was sent to Bangalore in 1946 to be trained as a priest. He arrived in Mumbai in 1949, and joined the socialist trade union movement.

» Fernandes's first shot at glory came in 1967, when he was offered a ticket by the Samyukta Socialist Party to contest the general elections. He defeated S K Patil of the Congress, and earned the nickname George the Giantkiller, while the defeat ended Patil's political career.

» As a fiery trade union leader, Fernandes organised countless strikes and bandhs in the city in the 1950s and 1960s.

» Fernandes went underground during the Emergency in 1975, but was arrested in 1976.