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|September 23, 1999||
Undercurrent of discontent threatens Fernandes
Soroor Ahmed in Nalanda
Nalanda may not need Admiral (retired) Vishnu Bhagwat's verbal torpedoes to shake Defence Minister George Fernandes's ship. Upset over the minister's complete lack of concern for the constituency, the people here have begun raising uncomfortable questions anyway.
Be it Biharsharif town, the district headquarters, or the rural areas of this constituency, the voters's mood is not very favourable to Fernandes.
The complaint is the same almost everywhere. "He has let us down. Whatever little work he has done is only for Kurmis," charged Narendra Kumar, a Bania by caste.
Though caste plays an important role in Bihar and Fernandes has a strong vote bank in 380,000 Kurmis in Nalanda, people have now started judging their candidates more harshly. For instance, they now know a thing or two about the MP's fund and would want to know where did Fernandes's Rs 20 million went.
"He promised the electorate that he would turn Biharsharif into a mini-Mumbai and the entire region into Switzerland. But you can see for yourself what he has done," said Zaki Anwar Ansari, a businessman.
"Biharsharif town faces a serious drinking water problem and the condition of roads and drains are deplorable. We had turned to Fernandes hoping that he would use his influence at the Centre to get some funds for his constituency. What funds...he has not spent a single paisa from his MP's fund,'' said a lawyer, who wished not to be quoted.
Biharsharif town has a fairly large population of bidi-makers. They told this correspondent that Fernandes had promised to modernise this industry and set up cigarette factories , but nothing was done. Similarly, Fernandes failed to address the problems of the handloom industry too.
It is because of this undercurrent of discontent that Fernandes's CPI opponent, Gaya Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, has emerged from nowhere to suddenly pose a serious challenge to him.
This is the only constituency in the state where the CPI enjoys the full support of the Congress and its ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Singh is not only hopeful of getting the support of Muslims and Yadavs, but also a sizeable chunk of votes from the Bhumihars and Rajputs.
In neighbouring Barh Lok Sabha constituency, its Railway Minister Nitish Kumar who is at the receiving end. Voters here believe that just like Fernandes Nitish Kumar too failed to leverage his influence in Delhi to initiate development workers in the constituency. ''He was too busy in Laloo-bashing to think of the people who had elected him,'' said a resident.
City RJD president Pappu Khan charged Nitish Kumar with misleading the electorate. "The prime minister hurriedly laid the foundation stones of a 2000 MW mega power project costing Rs 80 billion in the low-lying flood-prone areas of Barh and an ordnance factory near the famous tourist spot of Rajgir. This was in addition to another Rs 80 billion power project and rail track laying project that the prime minister inaugurated the same day in Hazaribagh. What a joke!"
After the stone-laying ceremonies, no progress has been made on any of the projects. If fact, the state government has not even acquired the land at any of the sites.
Even senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in the district admit that both Fernandes and Nitish Kumar have become a liability for them. ''With opinion polls indicating that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance would get a comfortable majority, I think it is just the right time off-load leaders like Fernandes and Kumar,'' he said.
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