The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George shift buzz scotched

New Delhi, Jan. 14: George Fernandes has no plans to change his Nalanda Lok Sabha constituency and reports that suggest he might shift to Calcutta, Mangalore, Jamnagar (Gujarat) or Muzaffarpur are unfounded, sources close to the Samata Party chief said.

“These reports are motivated and meant to show that he has no roots,” the sources said.

Scotching rumours that Fernandes has decided to shift from Nalanda in Bihar, a confidant of the defence minister said he and railway minister Nitish Kumar will jointly attend a railway function in the constituency on January 22.

“Fernandes had got an ordnance factory for Nalanda cleared. The first such big factory in Rajgir will not only provide employment to scores of people but will also be the biggest livelihood provider,” said a Samata leader.

For Fernandes, Nalanda is still by far the safest constituency with a predominant 30 per cent Kurmi population, the mainstay of the Samata’s base in Bihar, followed by Yadavs, Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins in that order. Of course, the key to his victory depends on the goodwill of Nitish, who is the undisputed leader of the backward Kurmi community, according to the railway minister’s supporters.

But it appears that Fernandes is not taking chances. He has been cultivating Mangalore, which he has visited six times in recent months. This has fuelled speculation that he might be thinking of contesting from this coastal town. He has never contested from Mangalore, his home town.

His supporters, however, claim that the seat is being kept warm for Jairam Shetty, a former Lok Sabha MP who had recently joined Samata from the BJP.

The defence minister’s engagements in the constituency in the last couple of months were hectic. Last month, he inaugurated a bull race, a popular sport, witnessed by about 35,000 people.

He attended a coffee growers’ rally with finance minister Jaswant Singh and travelled the entire length from Madikeri to Mangalore town by road with Singh. Fernandes attended another meeting of coffee growers and promised to redress the problems faced by them as well as aracanut and cashew growers.

He also interacted with the sizeable Christian population. Being an alumnus of St Aloysius College, he is scheduled to attend a function with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Fernandes inaugurated a coast guard carrier and attended the World Bants Conference. Bants are a forward community and wield enormous political influence and comprise castes such as Rai (of Aishwarya Rai fame), Shetty and Alva — equivalent to Thakurs in the Hindi belt.

Even if Fernandes succeeds in wooing the people of Mangalore, it is not certain whether the BJP will give up its claim over the constituency. The party had wrested the seat from the Congress in 1991 when Dhananjay Kumar won it.

He retained the seat in 1996, 1998 and 1999 and became Central minister of state for finance. Kumar was dropped from the council of ministers last year for poor performance.

Sources said the BJP high command is miffed with Kumar’s “unpopular” image and is unlikely to field him next year. Although urban development minister Anant Kumar is toying with the idea of contesting from Mangalore, some say the BJP may not be averse to backing Fernandes if he chooses to contest from there.

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