Emergency: When Fernandes became 'Khushwant', recited Gita

George Fernandes had assumed the guise of a Sikh man to evade arrest during Emergency and recited the Gita to inmates in Tihar Jail.

Published: 12th June 2016 09:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2016 09:40 AM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI: Sporting a turban and a beard, George Fernandes had assumed the guise of a Sikh man to evade arrest during Emergency days and recited the Gita to inmates while being imprisoned in Tihar Jail in that era, according to a colleague of the veteran socialist leader, who was arrested along with him.

"Police were on the lookout for us. But, we not only went into hiding, but continued to operate. To escape arrest, George had assumed the avatar of a Sikh man, with a turban and a beard, and had grown long hair. He used to call himself 'Khushwant Singh' after the noted author," 76-year-old Vijay Narain told PTI here.

Narain and others along with Fernandes were arrested on June 10, 1976 in Kolkata and tried in the infamous Baroda Dynamite case, in which they were also charged with waging war against the state to overthrow the government.

86-year-old Fernandes is currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease and lives in Delhi along with his wife Leila Kirbie. He rose to prominence after the 1973 railway strike, and had staunchly opposed the imposition of Emergency.

After remaining in disguise and operating out of hideouts, Fernandes, Narain and their other colleagues were arrested from St Paul's Church in Kolkata. "At the St Paul's Church, George had a typewriter, a cyclostyle machine and he continued to write correspondences which I would go and deliver at Railway Mail Service counters at various stations," recalls Varanasi-born Narain on the 40th anniversary of their arrest.

"I had assumed the guise of a Benarasi Muslim weaver to escape police. You see we were in hiding but not inactive," he says.

Recalling further, Narain says, "While George was flown the same night (of June 10) to Delhi in an IAF cargo plane, I was kept in police custody and interrogated for about a fortnight in Kolkata by the police's intelligence bureau. We all were later lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail and the case was tried in Tees Hazari court."

"George had a charismatic personality and during his prison days, he would recite Gita to inmates in the morning and we all read books from the library at Tihar," Narain says. Fernandes and his colleagues were transported in vans from Tihar Jail to Tees Hazari court, and the 76-year-old veteran says, "200 policemen would escort us during this transit."

Fernandes in handcuffs raising his hand in defiance became one of the most enduring images of the Emergency era. "Oh, that photograph was taken in the court premises while George was being produced there for the trial."

Emergency was in effect from June 25, 1975 until its withdrawal in March 1977.


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