IIPM Admission

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jaya Jaitly has been one of George Fernandes's closest aides for many years.

She has been with him through thick and thin, but just when he needs her the most, she was denied access to meet him when his estranged wife Laila Fernandes took him under her care. The Supreme Court later allowed Jaya to meet him once in a fortnight for 15 minutes. In this exclusive and wide ranging interview, she bares her heart out to Onkareshwar Pandey, the trials and tribulations and her attempts to 'rescue' George from his comatose existence.  

What has the Delhi High Court said about your plea to meet George when he is so ill?
The High Court ruled that sentiments and politics have no legal relationship. This is strange because not everything is legal. The other point is more important. Emotional relationships are not ignored by law. That is why I have appealed to the Supreme Court and notices have been issued to Mrs George Fernandes and finally the Supreme Court allowed me to meet George Saheb once in a fortnight for 15 minutes.

SC decision which came in your favour was based on the UN Convention. What does it say?
India is a signatory to the UN Convention on Human Rights. According to this law, if a person is unable to put forward his point of view for whatever reason, then a professional person can come to his help so that his exact views can be ascertained. Even if this does not work, what he had said earlier becomes applicable. George saheb has written many letters to me saying that he always improves under my care, that I provide courage and strength to him. When he was hit by Alzheimer's, he was looking towards me as a child would towards his mother to alleviate his difficulties.

How old are these letters?
They are very old letters. I was sitting with him just an hour before his family returned. A party worker from Muzaffarpur was also there. When I started to leave, George saheb stopped me but I said tomorrow is Sunday and I will spend the whole day with you.

How many times did George's wife come to see him?
Hardly ever for the last 15 years. He visited her on her birthday. George saheb's son Sushanto (he now calls himself by Amer, the penname of Sean Sawn) was married about 10 years ago to a Japanese girl in Tokyo. Then both he and his wife had gone to the wedding even though they travelled separately. She never came to meet George saheb, it was usually the other way round. When he fell ill, she came with a photograph of his grandson.

In other words, George and his wife were separated?
Absolutely, even though it was not legal.

How did George react to the meetings?
George saheb is a gentleman. But there are occasions when he got angry. Seeing Leila's attitude, he felt that the only thing she is interested in is his wealth. George saheb says she is only interested in money. For example, he told me that Leila keeps on asking him what he was leaving for his grandson.

Why did George and Leila separate?
George saheb was very busy, he never had a private life. Except politics, struggle and agitation. He would barely spend two hours at home. This lifestyle did not suit Leila and she left him. She used to live abroad for most of the time and in Panchsheel Enclave when she was in Delhi. But even while in Delhi, she never once came to meet him. When she needed anything, she used to call up.

Today, Leila does not let anyone meet George. Is this a fight for property or legacy?
George saheb has no money. He and his brothers had a 22-acre land given by his mother which he wanted to sell and donate proceeds to hospitals and social service organisations. This land is now valued at something like Rs 11 crore. The signing authority for his routine transactions, not land matters, lay with me and an associate of his from Mumbai, but Leila wanted to lay her hands on this money because she thought we were stealing it.

Apart from this property, does George have anything else?
No, nothing. He would probably have an amount of Rs 6 lakh in the bank as money saved from his parliamentary work. No house or car.

So the fight is over property?
Yes. George saheb has been operated many times but she never once came to see her. There is a lot of confusion in Alzheimer's and the patient needs sympathy but Leila has come along with people who George saheb disliked immensely.

What do you want? Are you claiming any rights on him?
To sympathise with a person who is seriously ill, you don't need to claim any rights on him. It should not be seen merely as an issue which involves rights.

What is your view on his property?
Leila has full rights over his property; she did so yesterday and she does today. I do not want anything. I came to George saheb because of his political work and integrity. I have no interest in his property.

When did you first meet George?
When he was the Union Industry Minister in the Janata Party government, his relations with my husband Ashok Jaitly were good. I used to work on handicrafts in the Gujarat emporium. I never visited him because I was not interested in politics and George saheb was my husband's boss. There was Emergency in the country and we were posted in Kashmir, which was also the only state in India which opposed the Emergency. Hence, we were relatively free there. When the Emergency was over,people generally believed that Indira Gandhi had been wrong in imposing it. I met him only a couple of times when he was minister and not before that. After the Janata Party lost power, me and my husband moved back to Kashmir and George saheb's wife had gone to the US. Then I used to go look after his child. It is my habit to help friends and their children. I never looked at him like a political icon. He was so busy that he never had time for his child or house so I chipped in. George saheb saw that while friendships in politics are often need based and opportunistic, here I was, working and helping selflessly. He was impressed and began to depend a lot on me. All this is around 1979 or so. In 1984, during the Delhi anti-Sikh riots, I set up a camp for 3,000 victims. After that, George saheb, Chandrashekhar and Farooq Abdullah set up a committee to assist the Sikhs and I was made in charge. I worked under adverse circumstances but the desire to do social work was very high. Then I felt that the best way to do social work would be to join politics.

So this was the first step towards politics and social work?
I joined the Janata Dal (JD) as an ordinary worker. Then SR Bommai was the president of JD. I organised a big meeting of handicraft workers in which Bommai and other senior leaders were invited. After the success of the meeting, I was appointed national general secretary of the JD.

And you have been politically active since. How did your name figure in the Tehelka case and what stage has it reached?
The case is in trial. We have questioned some witnesses. There are more than 10 to 15 witnesses who will be presented. We do not know how many people would be summoned by the CBI.

You have maintained that the Tehelka scam was pre-meditated.
Of course. If you see the footage, you will realise that far from indulging in corrupt practices, I was very open and people who are open, are not afraid. If you see the tape, some people just walk in and say 'they have brought something', to which I say 'send it to Mysore', because there was a party convention taking place there. To collect funds, we go house to house. The so-called Tehelka investigation was sponsored by the Congress and some defence sector middlemen. Tehelka was just a front. It was an attempt to pull down the NDA government by the Congress and the Hindujas. When they could not reachGeorge saheb, they targeted me.

After the Kargil War, there were several charges levelled against George: amongthem, the case of coffin purchases andCongress's vitriolic and belligerent tone.
The Congress raised a shindig over coffins but the CBI probe found nothing. There is no allegation on George saheb and there is no question of a case. But I have been implicated in the other matter. It is an attempt to insinuate that George saheb made money through me. The government does not have the moral courage to apologise for their mistakes when the CBI did not come up with anything against him.

You do not have the support of any political party in these days of struggle?
I am not associated with any political party. I believe in team work and that is why I had joined politics to bring about change for which people could launch joint struggles. I had helped a lot of people when I was president of the Samata Party. But since Tehelka broke out, no one has once come and asked me how I am managing things in the situation I am in. And ofcourse, there is no question of any help coming in from anywhere.

You got no help from JD (U) leaders?
JD (U) leaders now no longer remember George saheb. His pictures do not appear in their party posters. Like you will find Vajpayee's photographs even today.

Who are these people?
There are many. Like Sharad Yadav, for whom George saheb and Madhu Limaye had once organised funds to fight elections. Also Nitish Kumar. He has helped many people who ditched him when the time came. Advani is the only one who keeps in touch.

Had George helped Nitish Kumar?
George saheb worked very hard to turn the political situation to his advantage. He travelled through Bihar and organised rallies. It was only then that Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister.

Does he remember Nitish?
Not at all. George had great understanding of character but Nitish Kumar was the only person about whom he used to say 'I can never understand what is going on in this man's mind'. You can figure out how far George saheb had drifted from Nitish. The party is meant to decide everything but Nitish Kumar would never attend any meeting and would later issue statements against it. And he used to pressurise George saheb.

A little personal aside. For a fiery leader like George, what did he do in his spare time?
He never had any spare time. He was always surrounded by people. When he did get time, he would read and listen to Konkani and Western classical music.

When the NDA government went in for nuclear tests, what did George as defence minister think?
As far as I know, this was a collective decision of the NDA government, the final nod coming from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani, George saheb and Jaswant Singh. And George saheb despite being a votary of destroying nuclear stockpiles, was a party to the decision because it was in national interest.

George supported peoples' struggles, from Nepal to Myanmar.
He always backed such popular uprisings. Students who were leading the struggle in Myanmar were often present at his official residence at Krishna Menon Marg.

He categorised China as the enemy number one.
Not enemy number 1 but as the biggest threat.

Now that George is on his last legs, what are your plans?
I will continue to take forward his views; I have always worked to improve the conditions of handicraft workers. I will work to create more models along the lines of the Delhi haat. I am pressing the government to set up a Hast Kala academy. The magazine earlier edited by George saheb, The Other Side, is now in my hands since 2006 and I continue to publish it regularly as he would have wished. 

IIPM Mumbai Campus

No comments: