George Fernandes: The firebrand leader who had packed Coca Cola off from India
New Delhi, Jan 29: Former defence minister George Fernandes, who had been ailing for some time, passed away on Tuesday, January 29, at the age of 88. A firebrand leader who had protested against the Indira Gandhi government during Emergency - Fernandes served as the minister in the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee between 1998-2001 and 2001-04.
However, the one of the leader's bigger identity was his fight against Coca Cola in the pre-liberalised India and emerging victorious in the fight against the multi-national corporation.
In September 1977, Fernandes, 47 then, said that he had no second thought on the question of allowing Coca Cola to continue its operations in India. "Our policy toward multinationals is uniform. They must abide by the law of the land if they want to be in business here," the New York Times had quoted him in a report published on September 5, 1977, that started with the lines: "Coca‐Cola appears to have lost its battle for survival in India".
It was the Janata government, the first non-Congress regime, which was in power at the Centre then. [Read the 1977 New York Times report covering Fernandes's victory over Coca Cola]
"Last month he announced in Parliament that the Coca‐Cola Company had been asked to transfer 60 percent of the shares of its Indian company and the formula for its concentrate to Indian shareholders or cease operations in India. Coca‐Cola said that it was agreeable to transferring a majority of the shares but not the formula, which it contended was a trade secret," the NYT report added.
Anthony Young, a senior executive of the company then, was also sent to New Delhi to find a solution to the problem and he said he tried to convince the Government of India that Coca Cola had more to offer to India than merely the soft drink. He said the MNC is also the largest growers of citrus tea and coffee and has the expertise on agrochemicals and could make India master the skills of desalinating of water.
He had also said besides the 6,000 workers who were directly employed by the MNC, its business in India also served livelihood to many indirectly, like retail shopkeepers, bottle makers, suppliers of ice, etc.
Those who had backed Coca Cola then had also accused the Janata government's treatment of the MNC as politically biased while those against it had alleged that the Congress, which lost the election of 1977, was biased towards the US.
The then prime minister, Morarji Desai, had also backed Fernandes saying his government was not worried over any retaliation against the US companies working in the US.