At the height of Emergency, fiery Socialist labour leader George Fernandes sought to get funding from the American Central Intelligence Agency and the French government while he was underground organising sabotage activities.

Mr. Fernandes, who liked to project himself as a sworn enemy of American imperialism and foreign capital, said in November 1975 that “he was even now prepared to accept money from the CIA,” according to a new set of U.S. diplomatic cables from the Henry Kissinger era obtained by WikiLeaks and accessed by The Hindu .

Mr. Fernandes, who was at the time plotting to dynamite government installations as part of protests against the Emergency, made this request for funding during a meeting with the French Labour Attaché Manfred Turlach on or around November 1, 1975 ( Cable: 1975NEWDE15543_b ).

Fernandes initially asked Turlach for help from the French government. When this was refused, he asked Turlach if he could suggest CIA contacts. Turlach told him he knew none.

The cable, sent on November 28 from the New Delhi Embassy to the State Department in Washington, notes that on November 8 a certain “Miss Gita” (quotes from the original text) had approached the U.S. Labour Counsellor seeking to arrange a meeting between Fernandes and the U.S. Ambassador.

“She was told that there was absolutely no possibility for a meeting.”

During the meeting with Turlach, Fernandes, with more than a touch of bravado, claimed there were about 300 people with him engaged in sabotage activities and that they had “already blown up two railway bridges in the south and a bridge between Bombay and Poona”.

He also claimed his group set fire to the docks in Bombay (Mumbai) and that the Naxalites, with whom his group was working, had set fire to the LIC building in Madras (Chennai) in July, 1975. That the Americans were sceptical about these claims is evident from a later cable which says “George Fernandes has previously bragged to a western diplomat that he and his group….were responsible for explosions on the rail lines” ( 1976NEWDE05180_b ).

Fernandes, who as president of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation led the Railway strike of 1974 which nearly brought the country to a halt, went into hiding soon after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared...

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