George banks on big role, small rival

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By ASHISH SINHA in Muzaffarpur
  • Published 25.04.04

Muzaffarpur, April 25: Noted 18th century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke believed that an MP belongs to the entire nation and not just to his constituency. Little did he realise that the electorate in George Fernandes’ constituency three centuries later would take his words to heart.

The defence minister may not have done much for his electors, but they send him to Parliament with unfailing regularity as they understand that he has a “bigger” role to perform.

Not just Muzaffarpur, from where a jailed Fernandes began his second term as MP in 1977, but places like Banka and Nalanda, too, have not let him down. Bihar has indeed become the true home of the National Democratic Alliance convener.

“We hardly have an option…. The RJD, despite opposition from within, put up former RSS hand Bhagwan Lal Sahni against Fernandes. The leaders perhaps thought he would get some BJP votes because of his past. But Sahni is no match for Fernandes,” says hotelier Y.K. Jaiswal.

Fernandes has been trying to cover as much of his vast constituency as possible by a chopper. “A change in Bihar is imperative. The NDA is coming back to power….The composition of the alliance is dynamic and open to alterations,” he says.

RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav wouldn’t have done it for old times sake, but chief minister Rabri Devi is blunt while attacking Fernandes. “He does not belong here. Having been thrown out of Karnataka, George has taken refuge in Bihar…. Show him his real place this time. Remove him as you would throw a fly out of milk,” she tells a rally in the city.

But Fernandes’ supporters are unruffled. “We do not expect a better show from the chief minister or her husband. Such language will only strengthen our case. George sahab hamare atithi hain aur unka satkar karna hamara dharam hai (Fernandes is our guest and it is our duty to honour him),” says a loyalist.

But Sahni thinks differently. “He (Fernandes) is a migratory bird. They say he has won thrice, but this time he will meet his Waterloo here. The people of Muzaffarpur do not want to be taken for yet another ride.”

Jaiswal, however, maintains that the discerning voter — there are many in Muzaffarpur — knows the “difference” between Fernandes and Sahni. “It does not look good even to compare them. Besides, the coordination between the BJP and JD(U) during the campaign has been excellent. The BJP’s traditional voters will back George sahab. Even Laloo Prasad did not want a contest here and so he put up Sahni.”

The NDA focus has been on the closure of local industries, especially the thermal power station at Kanti. Fernandes has blamed the state government, which, he says, is “not interested in anything positive”. The RJD, on its part, has been talking of the “spectre of communalism looming large on the country”.