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'The Empire is global and has struck back'

'The Empire is global and has struck back'

Publication: The Pioneer (web edition)
Date: March 17, 2001

In his first print interview, former Defence Minister George Fernandes speaks to Rajeev Deshpande & Wilson John

The two police gypsies and a handful of cops outside George Fernandes' house are no hindrance to visitors. The trademark "gateless" Krishna Menon Marg residence remains as porous as ever with a group of Samata Party supporters squatting on the lawns with gumchhas around their necks.

The former Defence Minister mingles easily with the assembly. An old man tells of an election that Fernandes had fought in the dusty central Bihar. "You used to put your hand on my shoulder and say that the fight has just begun," the man tells Fernandes. "You could say the same now," the bespectacled leader remarks wryly.

Settled a little later in his living room, Fernandes harks back to his career as a trade union leader to answer questions about what he would do now that he is unplugged. "I have led a hard life. There is no question of not fighting back," he says.

Was there more to the tehelka.com episode other than journalistic enterprise? "The people who lost their access to Defence Ministry, the entire arms bazaar and middlemen are responsible. Decisions were taken to ban these people from purchase procedures. They have been at work during the eight months that tapes were made," remarks Fernandes.

He says that the "Empire has struck back". "The Establishment has taken its revenge". Which are these forces? "This is something on which I am yet to focus my attention. But I know the empire which I am referring to is a powerful establishment and arms dealers are a part of it. This Empire is a global empire. During my visit to London, various people from the arms lobby tried to corner me. Even at a function organised by the Gandhi Foundation, some of them tried to talk to me about arms deals. In France, similar things had happened.

"They had their reason. No way you could manipulate in matters of price; in terms of items to be purchased or substitute the indigenous attempt with imported equipment. There were middlemen, people very powerful in the political establishment who have a stake in the arms deals...a lot of fish found there was no water.

"They were desperate. One possibility could be my decision to send the records of previous purchases to the Central Vigilance Commission for inquiry.

"This is only one facet of the whole thing. The other is the way the media has been used in the whole exercise - both print and electronic. If it was genuine investigative journalism, they could have come to me with the tapes and said here's the evidence before us, what do you have to say. If they thought I was the sort of guy who could invite arms dealers to my house and discuss deals, they should have told the Prime Minister," Fernandes says.

"I became aware of the lobby against me when in an interview I was asked whether China was India's enemy Number One. It was a leading question. I said No. I said we were strengthening our relationship with China and threat is a matter of perception. China, I said, can be potential threat number one. That was projected as my saying China as India's enemy Number One. It was not an innocent action. There was a purpose - to rattle the Government, particularly the Prime Minister. The basic purpose was to put me in a situation where my judgement on matters of security was found to be wanting. The attack was mounted on me from this point.

"The government's performance in all spheres of administration was positive, especially in diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries and matters of security. There could be a growing fear among the lobbies working against us that if you do not get them out now, it would be difficult to do so later."

Mr Fernandes hit out at reports that the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov was defective and he had still persisted. "This was mooted prior to 1995 when the then Navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat supported the proposal. India is a maritime nation and we need two aircraft carriers," he said.

Fernandes is no stranger to controversy and has often relished rolling up his sleeves in anticipation of a good fight. But, the latest storm to break over his head is possibly the toughest challenge in his 52-year-long political career. He does his bit clear up matters. "I don't see my resignation in terms of a political price. I resigned due to my concern for national security," he says.

A couple of party MPs, including Raghunath Jha who only recently gave the Samata leader sleepless nights, listen as Fernandes explains why he hopes corruption charges will not stick. "I have not acquired wealth. I have no physical assets. I do not own any house. I have been told to accept a security cover, I have put my life at stake. That is my life," he says.

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