By I. Ramamohan Rao New Delhi [India], Dec. 30 : My thoughts go back twelve years ago, to the last week of December, when I travelled with then Defence Minister George Fernandes to Arunachal Pradesh as he was keen on personally distributing Christmas cakes to Indian Army soldiers posted on the border.
The cakes were manufactured at Koshy's Bakery in Bengaluru, and their cost was borne by Fernandes and his family, and personally distributed by him among soldiers posted in Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan.
The process used to take about a week. I was Information Advisor in the Defence Ministry following the 1999 Kargil Operations to help in updating the operation publicity guidelines.
In 2004, George Fernandes flew to Tezpur to review the situation on the border, particularly the problems created by militants who had set up camps in Bhutan and visited Bomdi La and Tawang.
He also visited the Thagla Ridge on the Line of Actual Control along the India-China border. After distributing the cakes, Fernandes arrived in Tawang, laid a wreath at the memorial raised in memory of the martyred Indian soldiers of the India-China conflict of 1962.
Later, he flew back to Gauhati to take an Indian Airlines flight to Delhi. Unfortunately, the Indian Airlines flight was cancelled that evening, but Fernandes was keen to reach Delhi the same day to take the flight to Ladakh to distribute cakes to the soldiers posted there.
The only available flight that evening was a cargo aircraft of the Indian Air Force. I remember travelling with him seated in bucket seats of the cargo compartment of an IL76 aircraft. No conversation was possible, as we had to sit with our ears closed. As defence minister in the National Democratic Alliance Government, George Fernandes made it a point to visit Siachen every three months and meet every contingent of Indian soldiers posted there.
He would personally ensure that the soldiers posted there had adequate facilities. Fernandes was keen to assess the conditions under which the soldiers, sailors and airmen worked and lived.
He travelled in a Light Combat Aircraft developed by the Hindustan Aircraft Limited after subjecting himself to the tests that every pilot has to pass through.
Staying at 3, Krishna Menon Marg, he would walk to his office in the defence ministry. Later he was stuck by Alzheimer's. Fernandes today is unable to recall his memories as a labour leader in the sixties, underground agitator during the Emergency in the seventies, Commerce Minister in the Janata Government, Railway Minister in the NDA Government and was the Defence Minister during the Kargil War.
Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at email@example.com..