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Bihar mourns death of George Fernandes


Press Trust of India Patna
A wave of sorrow swept across Bihar Tuesday following the death of veteran socialist leader George Fernandes, who had virtually adopted the state as his

second home and political 'karmabhoomi', representing its various constituencies in Parliament for a period spanning over four decades.
Condolences poured in from all quarters, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar declaring a two-day state mourning.
Sources in the CM's office said Kumar was likely to rush to Delhi for attending the funeral of Fernandes, with whom he had founded the Samata Party in the 1990s.
Jailed RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, who remained in the crosshairs of the fiery Fernandes for much part of his political career, tweeted, "Extremely saddened to hear about the demise of socialist leader, freedom fighter and former Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes".
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said on Twitter, "A great fighter and symbol of anti-Congressism. Architect of alliance between BJP and Samata Party which led to fall of RJD rule in Bihar. As convenor of NDA played an important role in Ataljis government. Nobody can match George. RIP".
In a moving statement, former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who had succeeded Fernandes as the NDA convenor, called the late leader a "father figure and role model" who belonged to the Janata Dal family of socialists but had friends in every political party.
Others who issued condolence messages here included Governor Lalji Tandon, former chief Mministers Jagannath Mishra and Jitan Ram Manjhi, and state BJP president Nityanand Rai.
Old-timers in the state fondly recall the sensational electoral victory of Fernandes from Muzaffarpur in 1977 by a margin of more than 3 lakh votes, polling a staggering 78 per cent of the total votes cast.
Except for a handful, none of the voters had ever seen him in person as he was lodged in jail in connection with the Baroda dynamite case.
People recall the election campaign having been carried out with supporters of the Janata Party--a jumbo coalition of disparate political groups opposed to the Emergency stitched together by Jayaprakash Narayan-- carrying posters of a heavily-shackled Fernandes, who had earned by that time the reputation of a man who stood up to power, having organised a nationwide railway strike three years earlier.
Muzaffarpur was chosen as the seat for the fiery trade unionist-turned-politician since it fell in an area that had a tradition of having elected and sent to Parliament socialists belonging to far-off regions like Acharya Kripalani and Ashok Mehta.
Out of jail, Fernandes was inducted into the Union cabinet by Prime Minister Morarji Desai and he brought to his constituency, among other things, the Kanti Thermal Power Station, which was eventually renamed after him in 2014.
Three years later when the Janata Party disintegrated and the Congress led by Indira Gandhi stormed back to power, the people of Muzaffarpur still reposed their faith in Fernandes, who retained the seat in a tightly-contested election.
His only attempt in contesting a poll from his home town of Bangalore in 1984 made him taste defeat and he was back as the Muzaffarpur MP in 1989, this time as the candidate of the Janata Dal floated by V P Singh and again became a Union minister in the new short-lived government.
A few years later, differences with then Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad made Fernandes break ranks with the Janata Dal and float the Samata Party. The new outfit forged an alliance with the BJP and later merged with the JD(U) headed by Sharad Yadav over a decade later.
In alliance with the BJP, Fernandes fought and won the Nalanda Lok Sabha seat thrice in 1991, 1998 and 1999. He returned to Muzaffarpur in 2004 and sought re-election in 2009 as a candidate in virtual revolt against the wish of Nitish Kumar, who was then in saddle as the chief minister of the state.
He lost the electoral battle, though Kumar kept his promise of sending his former mentor to the Rajya Sabha, notwithstanding initial protest by Fernandes that socialists did not choose the Upper House route.

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First Published: Jan 29 2019 | 2:26 PM IST

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