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George fights a lonely battle in Muzaffarpur

April 16, 2009 03:09 IST
The dingy hall at the city's famous Kamlu Babu's house is barely lit. Shabby, discoloured walls, a few chairs and a big wooden table of this "central election room" depict the simplicity with which the candidate has always lived his life. But then, at one corner, leaning against the wall is the cutout, perhaps the most significant picture of the 2009 Lok Sabha election in this old railway town.

There waves George Fernandes, smartly dressed in battle fatigue of an Indian Air Force pilot, ready to fly the Mig-21 to prove to the world and a skeptical nation that there is nothing wrong in the fighter dubbed as Flying Coffin by a section of the media.

As the defence minister, Fernandes not only flew the Mig fighters while they used to regularly crash in different parts of the country, he also holds the record of visiting the Siachen glacier, the most difficult battlefield on this planet, 13 times in six years (His successor Pranab Mukherjee went there only once).

For Fernandes, who is fighting his last and the most difficult Lok Sabha election, the cutout (similar pictures are circulated in the constituency) is there to give the message that he is still battle-ready.

Janata Dal-United has denied Fernandes' the ticket this time from his favourite constituency of Muzaffarpur, where he has won five Lok Sabha elections, forcing the old socialist to stand as an Independent.

A few old loyalists are managing his campaign and office. They claim "George saab" is getting support from every quarter.

"The Samajwadi Party district president is providing his car to us. Many JD-U supporters are campaigning for us," claims Bhrigunath Singh. But just outside the office, the security guard at a bank ATM says, "He has become old. He should not have contested." The same sentiment is echoed at a nearby restaurant where many feel George should not have challenged Nitish Kumar and company.

While his loyalists claim he is fit and fine, their tone and tenor clearly suggest that they want Fernandes to work the least. "Here every one of us is George Fernandes. We all are standing for him," says Chaturbhuj Prasad Gupta.

While candidates like Lalu Prasad were doing more than 10 meetings everyday in the constituency, Fernandes had just started his campaign now and that too, not more than 4-5 meetings per day, according to his followers.

His constituency is scheduled to go to poll on April 23. During election, every candidate's office will predict he is the clear winner. But in this office, Maheshwar Paswan, a senior aide of Fernandes, only says, "We are in the race."

It is an irony that the socialist who was closest to the BJP leadership, driving his erstwhile Samata Party towards a key alliance with the saffron brigade, today fights his lonely battle against the growing popularity of the BJP-JD(U) in Bihar.

 The former convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is also the potential spoiler for Kumar in this seat. The Lok Janshakti Party, which has fielded its candidate here, is making Fernandes' health a major issue. "There is an infighting in the JD(U) and we are talking about it in our meetings," said a party functionary.

It is the battle of two faces of Janata Dal (United) in Muzaffarpur. The railway town will have to decide if it opts for Nitish Kumar's effective governance, promising a better future, or pay their loyalty to a fading socialist patriarch.

George Fernandes wants to show he too is like a Mig-21: old but still effective.

Saubhadro Chatterji