September 16, 2021
Oscar Fernandes, a national leader is no more with us today. After fighting a battle of about 55 days in the hospital he surrendered to the will of God on September 13, 2021 and left for his Heavenly Abode. While he was in the hospital many a leaders cutting across party and religion lines visited him and wished that he be survived, his services were needed to the society and the country. Prayers were offered in Churches, Temples and Mosques for his speedy recovery. But Almighty’s Will prevailed. Though Oscar is no more with us today, his life is a model to us and especially to the youth and politicians. From a small town (then) Udupi he rose to the power centre of our Nation - Delhi. He became close to the most powerful family of the nation – that of Indira Gandhi. He retained this close proximity with the 2nd generation – Rajiv and Sonia and continued the same affinity with the 3rd generation – Rahul and Priyanka.
There is a saying in Kannada – “Sharanara gunavannu maranadalli kaanniri” (Seeing the qualities of a leader in his death). This is what happened in Oscar’s case too. From a common man of a village to the President of India Sri Ramanath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh mourned the death of Oscar Fernandes and said that he was a great man. He did lead a good and fruitful life. The people of his nature are very rare to find. Even his opponents may agree that he was a sincere and honest man. His life is a model to all who are in the political field.
I have seen Oscar from close quarters since four and half decades. I came into his contact during my Pre-University study days. I had joined the Poornaprajna College at Udupi for my Pre-University studies in June 1976. In July 1976 I had first met him at his residence in Udupi. Since then our relationship lasted for long till recently when he fell ill and was in ICU of a private hospital in Mangalore.
We had an age gap of about 19 years. When I first met Oscar, he was an energetic youth of 35. By then he was quite popular in Udupi and surrounding areas. On his attaining 75, daijiworld.com had published my article in these columns and it was well received. In that article I had narrated the lesser known facts about the life of Oscar. In this present article too I would like to present a few details which were not commonly published elsewhere.
Oscar was born to Roque Fernandes (31-12-1893 to 27-10-1971) and Leonissa Marceline Mercine D’Souza (16-01-1900 to 26-12-1990) on 27th March 1941. Roque was the renouned Headmaster of Board High School, Udupi and a familiar figure in the Udupi town those days. Several students, later rose to ‘who’s who of Udupi’ were his students. Roque’s ancestors were from Gazani household of Mulki. Roque’s father was Xavier Fernades Prabhu, later settled in Udyavar. Roque’s mother Mary Magdalene Machado was from Udyavar. Roque married Leonissa (Lenny) on 26th April 1921.
Leonissa was the eldest daughter of Maxim D’Souza and Sabina Aranha (granddaughter of Joachim Alva – Senior, who was a land lord, major donor and quite popular figure of Coastal area in the 19th century. He was also one of the co-founders of Mother of Sorrows Church, Udupi and by whose efforts St Cecily’s Convent came to Udupi. Senior Joachim Alva was the grandfather of Junior Joachim Alva, who was a freedom fighter and Parliamentarian from Karwar Constituency). Leonissa was the Bench Magistrate of South Canara District, the first lady on that post in India at that time, a rare distinction. Roque – Leonissa couple had 12 children. Oscar was their 10th child. His siblings are Clifford, Doris (who died at the young age of 5 due to pneumonia fever. The family house was named as – ‘Doris Rest Haven’ in her memory), Lola, Dion, Lawrence, Judith, Thomas, Joyce (who became Apostolic Carmel Nun with name – Sr. Mary Josina), May, Charlotte and Mariette. All the children were given at least 3 names. Accordingly, Oscar was christened as Emmanuel John Oscar Vincent Fernandes. Roque – Leonissa and children formed a devoted Catholic family with strictly adhering religious practices. I can still visualize the figure of Aunty Leonissa sitting on the easy chair in the varandah of her house, holding rosary and praying as I had seen a number of times during 1980s.
Oscar’s life – suitable for thesis
Oscar studied at St Cecily Convent School, Board High School and at MGM College, Udupi. At the middle of his bachelor degree studies at the College he joined LIC and worked there for a short period.
Oscar took agricultural land at Kappettu – Ambalpady on hire (Geni) and cultivated paddy. He himself ploughed the land and did all sorts of manual work involved in agriculture. He even bagged award from Syndicate Agricultural Foundation, Manipal for the highest crop and the agricultural department of Government of Karnataka. He involved himself in animal husbandry and ventured into the milk business. (He continued this activity even while he was serving as the Chairman of the Brahmavar Sugar factory. He reared hybrid cows and maintained a dairy there). Oscar involved in the Palace Plastics a manufacturing factory belonging to Pai family of Manipal. He opened a shop in Udupi and sold the products. For this purpose he had a tempo (mini truck) which he himself drove. Sometimes, he even visited distant places like Surathkal, Kundapur etc in the same vehicle. He got involved in the trades like welding, fabrication, machine work, carpentry, book binding, tailoring and even cooking. He had interests in singing, dance, acting and playing musical instruments. He was also involved in youth activities. Founded a youth association by name ‘Jolly Club’ and maintained a library-cum-reading room at Brahmagiri. I am sure – based on these experiences- in the ‘Who’s who’ columns of Rajya Sabha members Oscar’s special interests have been mentioned as ‘animal husbandry, agriculture, education and youth welfare). Oscar was active in social service in and around Udupi. He was the office bearer of Parish Council of Mother of Sorrows Church, Udupi and conducted youth activities there regularly. He became the honorary President of the Udupi Auto Rickshaw owners and drivers association.
His house ‘Doris Rest Haven’ was his centre for all activities. People were bee-lining in their requirements.
Oscar’s family had affinity with Indian National Congress. His dad Roque Fernandes joined the Congress Party after his retirement from teaching profession. The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru had once visited their house when Roque fell ill. Taking inspiration from his father Oscar joined Congress party as an ordinary member. He went on to climb the ladder of the party by becoming President of Udupi Block Youth Congress, Udupi Block Congress, and President of South Kanara Youth Congress. He was elected as member of the Udupi Municipality in 1972.
Oscar had served for the people without discriminating caste, creed, religion or language barriers. In the year 1979 the boats which were stationed at Malpe fisheries harbor were gutted by fire. Oscar rushed to help the victims by providing them with food and arranging for their compensation. He had camped at Malpe for 2-3 months.Again, fire broke out in Malpe in 1983. This time he served the people as the Member of Parliament.
Udupi is a popular temple town predominantly worshipping Lord Krishna. There are 8 Mutts dedicated to Lord Krishna and the administration changes in every two years. This event is called ‘Paryaya’. Lot of people visit Udupi during Paryaya. During many such occasions Oscar helped the Mutts and the administration by supervising the activities and services of volunteers. Due to all these activities Oscar became popular among people of Udupi and especially the youth. He was fondly called as ‘Oscaranna’ (elder Brother Oscar).
I was involved in youth activities both at Pangala Parish and at the Mangalore Diocesan (undivided) level. Oscar had participated in many of the programmes and appreciated youth. In the year 1979 Catholic Sabha, Mangalore Pradesh was started with Oscar as the Founder President.
Member of Parliament
Election for Lok Sabha was held on 3rd and 6th of January 1980. For Udupi constituency elections were held on 6th Jan. 1980. During those days Indira Gandhi was the powerful lady in India and Indian National Congress Party led by her was the winning horse. It was easy to win a constituency from Congress ticket, but to get a ticket of the party was a difficult task. Indira Gandhi herself chose party candidates. Like elsewhere, there were too many aspirants for Congress ticket from Udupi. Mrs. Gandhi had visited Central Minister B. Shankaranada’s house at Belgum. Oscar was summoned there by the party. Indira asked Oscar – ‘Will you be able to win Udupi seat against T.A. Pai ? (Pai was a loyal man of Indira but by then he had fallen out and turned his loyalty to Devraj Urs). Oscar replied – ‘Madam, it is not my victory, it would be yours’. Rest is history. Oscar got the ticket. In the election Oscar bagged 261738 votes and Dr. V.S. Acharya of the Janata party -101769 votes and thus Oscar won by 159969 votes. Mr. Pai was in 3rd position and even lost the deposit.
There after, Oscar won continuously in the 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1996 elections from Udupi constituency, which is an all time record. He was defeated by I.M. Jayaram Shetty of BJP in 1998 due to the polarization in politics (After many years Oscar welcomed the same Mr. Shetty to Congress Party, which shows greatness of Oscar). Since 1998 Congess party gave Rajya Sabha ticket to Oscar Fernandes and he won 4 consecutive terms, which is also a record. Oscar passed away as a sitting MP (Rajya Sabha). He had the tenure till June 2022.
Positions held in the Central Government
While Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India, Oscar was one of the Parliamentary Secretaries. He was a Union Minister (both State as well as Cabinet Rank) holding a number of portfolios such as Statistics and Programme Implementation, NRI Affairs, Youth and Sports Affairs and Labour and Employment, Minister for Transport, Roads and Highways, and Labour and Employment in Government of India in UPA led coalition government.
He served as Advisory member to various ministries like Human Resource Development ministry, Agricultural ministry, Petroleum and Natural Gas ministry, National Micro, Small and Medium Industries Board, Coffee Board, Minority Education National Committee. He was also the Chairman of Parliamentary Forum on HIV – AIDS for about 14 years. He served two terms as a member of the Governing Council of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. During such Chairmanship / membership he conducted many a programmes and travelled widely in India and Abroad.
In the Congress Ladder
Oscar went on climb the ladder of the party starting from becoming President of Udupi Block Youth Congress, Udupi Block Congress, South Kanara Youth Congress. He was elected as member of the Udupi Municipality in 1972. After he was elected as MP, Oscar became Secretary, General Secretary of All India Congress Committee (AICC), Member of Congress Working Committee, President of Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, Chairman of the National Election Committee of Congress. He was nominated as Observer for various States. He was sent to various states to solve problems in the party, to negotiate with rebel groups etc. He held discussions with factions like Naga groups etc. He conducted seminars / workshops to grass root front organizations like Sevadal, Students wing – National Students Union of India(NSUI), Youth Congress, Mahila Congress etc.
Tours to various Nations and States of India
Oscar had visited all the states and Union Territories of India either on Government task or on party work. Likewise he visited countries like Russia, Yugoslavia, Spain, Australia, Italy, Vatican, Netherlands, Gulf countries, Switzerland, Austria, Malaysia, Portugal, Thailand, USA and other countries. Oscar also extended helping hand in arranging for Pope John Paul II’s visit to India and especially to Mangalore. He was one among the 3 persons delegation to represent India during the funeral of Pope John Paul II on 8th April, 2005 in Rome. Oscar couple had visited Pope Francis in Rome. In 2008 when worship places of Catholics were attacked in Mangalore he had raised his voice at the Government level.
Oscar was the Chief – Guest at the felicitation programme for Bishop Gerlad Isaac Lobo, the first Bishop of newly erected Udupi Diocese which was held in Mumbai on 4th May 2014 by the Mangalorean (including Udupi) Community of Mumbai under the leadership of Albert W. DSouza, Chairman of Aldel Education Trust and Chairman of Model Co-operative Bank Ltd., Mumbai.
Honorary Doctorate and other honors
Mangalore University had bestowed Honorary Doctorate to Oscar Fernandes on its 28th Convocation held on 6th April 2010. This programme was attended by Shashi Tharoor, the then Union Minister of State for External Affairs and H. R. Bharadwaj, the then Governor of Karnataka. Oscar was bestowed with New Year award by Academy of General Education, Manipal Universersity and erstwhile Syndicate Bank on 1st Januray 2015 at Manipal. He had received Nelson Mandela International Award for his services for the minorities. He was also honoured by Pejavar and other Mutts of Udupi.
Bundle of talents and Interests
Oscar had always with smiling face, affection, interest in meeting people, hard working nature and many such qualities. He was continuing to work in the office till late night and even post mid night.
Oscar had numerous talents. He was interested in singing along with church choirs. During his school days he had interest in playing harmonium, tabla, sitar and other instruments. Mouth organ was his favorite instrument. Till recent times he entertained gatherings with playing tunes from his mouth organ. He had collection of many mouth organs.
During his school days Oscar was an altar server. He was taking part in Youth association and its activities. At young age he had interest in athletics, Volleyball, Kabaddi and such other games. He was a good swimmer too. With this zeal he had helped to conduct swimming competitions at Kattikere – Katapady under my leadership.
Oscar had participated in yakshagana with M. Veerappa Moily and others at the occasion of Karnataka Sangah, Delhi new building inauguration.
Oscar started practicing yoga at the age of 50 years and given performances at many places including Dharmasthala. At the age of 60 he learnt Bharatanatyam, Kuchupudi dance forms. He had given performances too. Due to these type of activities he had a liking for vegetarian food.
On 26th August, 1981 Oscar had tied the knot with Blossom Mathias. The couple has a son – Oshan (married to Frazil Quadros; having a child – Ohanna Felicia) and a daughter – Oshanie (married to Mark Saldanha, having a child – Odin Immanuel)
Now only Memories
Oscar has left behind his wife, children, near and dear ones and scores of admirers throughout India and abroad. He was a sincere and honest politician. Even his opponents too praise him for his simplicity, honesty, hard working nature and people friendly attitude. By his death India has lost a true leader. The nation including President of India, Prime Minister, and Party leaders have mourned his death.
In his demise personally I have lost a good friend, well-wisher and mentor. May Almighty give him eternal rest and May his noble soul rest in peace. May God give strength to his family to bear the loss of his death.
You will live in our hearts forever Oscaranna.
Thanks to Oshanie Fernandes Saldanha for providing a few rare photographs. Also thanks to Heera Maria Alva, Cliford D’Mello & John Rodrigues for a few suitable photographs.