Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In memory of our tallest supporter George Saab

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with George Fernandes in Dharamsala, HP, India on March 10, 2007. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
Dharamshala, 29 January 2019: Today, Tibet has lost one of her dearest and most trusted friend George Fernandes, who remained the strongest voice of solidarity for the Tibetan cause. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his condolence message expressed, “George was a great humanitarian and believer in truth. Throughout his life, his was a voice for the millions of poor and needy people of the country. He had a firm conviction in justice and wisdom. He was a real heroic leader.”1 In India, he was popularly known as a union leader of the masses, an ardent Lohia comrade, and a seasoned politician.

George’s initial relationship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama started when Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia requested him to teach some Tibetan youth (Lodi Gyari) about socialism. He first met His Holiness when the latter visited Parliament house to meet Dr. Lohia. In 1959, soon after His Holiness fled to India, he led a protest in front of the Chinese consulate in Mumbai after they refused to take the memorandum.2

In 1967, he won the parliamentary election from south Bombay. In that year, when many prominent Indian leaders like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, Prof. ML Sondhi, Acharya Kripalani and Madhu Limaye rigorously debated in favour of a resolution in the Parliament on whether the Dalai Lama should be recognized as the Head of the émigré Government of Tibet and the Government of India to extend all facilities and help to liberate Tibet from the colonial rule of Communist China, George Fernandes raised up to say Ayes for the resolution. Since the house was divided with the motion, the resolution failed to passed.3

 “There are many who believe that it is now too late in the day to think about the freedom of Tibet. Such people belong to the category of those who have lost faith in themselves and have never understood the indomitable nature of the spirit of the human being. To them history is as static as the Himalayas appear to be, though over the ages, the Himalayas too have kept evolving and changing.” - George Fernandes, Keynote address delivered at the International Convention on Tibet and Peace in South Asia, New Delhi, 12-14 August, 1989  

On May 11, 1993 the All India Parliamentary Forum for Tibet (AIPFT) was formed with the involvement and cooperation of many Indian parliamentarians representing all major political parities in India. George saab was then the first chairman of AIPFT, instrumental in forming the forum.  Under his chairmanship, he organized the first World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet in Delhi from 18-20 March 1994. Many parliamentarians from 25 countries gathered to discuss the Tibet issue, which George stressed, “it is for the first time that we succeeded in taking the Tibetan issue into a large number of parliaments in the world” and called the New Delhi convention as “qualitatively different” from the earlier conventions on Tibet.4 The forum adopted the Delhi Resolution which was based on the Ten Commandments or suggestion for actions in support of the Tibetan people.5 George, then the member of Indian parliament was vocal in condemning China when the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wu Jianmin commented with the hope that india would be careful in future in handling Tibet political activities on its soil. In response, he made a statement that New Delhi should tell Beijing, “even if it is a lesson that China’s present day leaders, with their Tiananmen Square record, may not be able to understand”.6

In 1995, he attended the Second World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet in Vilnius, Lithuania. During the deliberations, he said that it is eminent to hold the next conference in a country which can play the most significant role, next to India. It is in his firm believe that India has to play the most significant role in the ultimate fight, which George saab stressed “fight in all its ramifications to see that Tibet achieves independence.”7

During the Third World Parliamentarians Convention for Tibet, which was held in Washington D.C in 1997, George saab iterated that India and China must talk to each other taking into consideration of the the geopolitical importance of Tibet. He argued that without Tibet as a central theme, the talks will be meaningless.8

In 1998, when George Fernandes was the defence minister of India, he openly declared China as the potential threat No. 1 of India, which suddenly raised eyebrows of all strategic pundits who were silently observing the Sino-Indian relations. In 2003, he visited China which again drew lots of media attentions. However, Bhartendu Kumar Singh wrote a piece that summed up the personality of George saab, “George Fernandes, the Defence Minister, who is pragmatic about the prospects of Sino-Indian relations, is only articulating the official viewpoint. In private, he still remains the same ‘old’ George, who continues to support the Tibetans, reveres the Dalai Lama and carries on the PSP’s perception of China as a strategic threat. George, as an individual, would still like to stand by his 1998 description of China as a potential enemy no.1.”8

In 2007, George attended the 48th commemoration of Tibetan National Uprising Day at the courtyard of Tsuglakhang in Dharamshala where he said that the struggle must continue until the full resolution of Tibet issue. He asserted that he shall remain an optimist on the Tibet issue.

In 2008, when a nationwide uprising happened in Tibet, George saab was vocal enough to call for a boycott of torch relay in India. He said that “the Olympic torch should not be allowed to come to India and that he had asked his 'colleagues' and others to make 'whatever effort' to prevent the flame's run in India.” On his 77th birthday, His Holiness attended George Abhinandane hosted by his friends in Bangalore. As a response to that felicitation, he read "The presence of Dalai Lama and others will bring more strength to go with struggle for the causes of poor and downtrodden,"9

In 2009, George Fernandes visited Dharamshala and attended the Thank you India program hosted by the Tibetan NGOs. He told the Tibet Post, ‘these refugees have human rights in India, shouting, demonstrating, and protesting are all within their rights.  Never should a Tibetan be arrested in India for exercising his personal freedoms.”10

Today, at this sad moment of his demise, Tibet has lost her trusted friend, who had consistently worked for Tibet for decades whether he be in the government or outside. Likewise, Burmese too will grief the loss of their dear friend. I vividly remember those days when we used to visit him at his MP residence during the long relay of protests in 2008. Though he was physically weak, we were empowered by his presence and his larger than life conviction.

We bid farewell to George saab, and shall cherish and remember his goodwill and legacy forever.

1.    Condolences on the Death of George Fernandes,
2.    Faithful among the Faithful - Interview of George Fernandes in New Delhi by Claude Arpi, 05 June 2018
3.    Indian Parliament on the issue of Tibet Lok Sabha (1952-2005), TPPRC, 2006 pp. 279
4.    Dalai Lama-China dialogue mooted, The Times of India, New Delhi Monday, March 21, 1994
5.    World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet, A Souvenir, pp. 12
6.    India clarifies position on met on Tibet, Deccan Herald, march 24, 1994
7.    Tibet: Saving A People from Annihilation Proceedings of the Second World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet, pp. 26
8.    George Fernandes and Sino-Indian Relations, by Bhartendu Kumar Singh, IPCS, 27 May 2003
9.    George Fernandes felted on his 77th birthday, 17 January 2008
10. Tibetan refugees have human rights in India: Indian former minister, George Fernandes, The Tibet Post, 07 July 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment