The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo gets a stick to beat George with

Patna, Dec. 25: The election-time generosity that singed Laloo Prasad Yadav today burnt the fingers of his political rival George Fernandes after authorities filed a case against him for violating the model code of conduct in poll-bound Bihar.

The NDA convener has been charged under Section 171 (b) of the IPC for trying to influence voters after he was accused of giving money to a poor woman who had attempted suicide.

A delegation from the Rashtriya Janata Dal ' which was hauled up by the Election Commission after its chief Laloo Prasad distributed cash among poor Dalits at a recent public meeting ' is understood to have met the poll panel and demanded action.

TV grabs showed Fernandes purportedly giving a 500-rupee note to a man at a hospital in Muzaffarpur, his Lok Sabha constituency. Beside the man stood Sunita Devi, who had tried to kill herself on Thursday. Sunita Devi's rickshaw-puller husband Tuntun Paswan is fighting blood cancer and, unable to cope with grinding poverty, she had decided to end her life with her two children ' Abhishek, 5, and Abhijit, 2 ' by jumping into the Buri Gandak river. They were saved by fishermen.

District magistrate S.K. Mishra visited the hospital and took Sunita Devi's statement as soon as a private cable channel showed the footage. Reports said the woman acknowledged before the official that 'Netaji' ' but is not sure if it is Fernandes ' gave her a 500-rupee note, which Mishra apparently took from her.

'The incident, if true, is a clear violation of the model code of conduct,' the district magistrate said. The Election Commission, he added, has been informed of the incident.

Fernandes, who was on his way to Chhapra to kick off the Janata Dal (United)'s poll campaign, denied the allegation. 'No money has gone from my hands nor did I have any money,' he said. The allegations, he added, were 'a lie' and threatened to sue for defamation.

However, unconfirmed reports later said Fernandes accepted he had given money and said if helping the needy was a crime, he is ready to face any punishment. State BJP chief Gopal Narayan Singh said: 'After all, he (Fernandes) gave the money not for buying sweets but to help a family in dire straits.'

In Delhi, poll panel sources said the commission would pursue a similar line of action as it did against Laloo Prasad if there is evidence that Fernandes, too, distributed cash. 'We have not received any formal complaint. But in the event that there is evidence, you can expect us to be even-handed,' said a source.

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