|HOME | NEWS | ELECTIONS '98 | CAMPAIGN TRAIL|
|February 10, 1998|
Fernandes prepares to retain seat
The working-class dominated Nalanda constituency will witnesses a triangular contest with Samata Party supremo George Fernandes seeking to retain the seat while the Communist Party of India and the Rashtriya Janata Dal candidates are gearing up to wrest it in the February 16 poll.
Fernandes has the distinction of securing over 486,000 votes, the highest in Bihar in the 1996 election, in Nalanda. He defeated his nearest rival, the Janata Dal-supported CPI nominee Vijay Kumar Yadav by 168,000 votes. Yadav secured 318,000 votes.
Yadav, who is contesting the poll this time too, has represented this constituency thrice, winning the 1980, 1984, and 1991 polls. Each successive win saw an increase in his votes: 365,000 votes in 1991; 245,000 in 1989; and 198,000 in 1980.
Caste politics, common to Bihar, might take a backseat this time as most of the electorate considers the socialist Fernandes a ''casteless leader who has the capability to develop the region.'' People in large numbers, mostly workers from the nearby green fields, brick kilns and small business houses, throng his meetings which lack the usual high profile show but are loaded with talk of local to international politics.
Nalanda is known for its ancient university where Buddhism and Jainism reached their peak and the remains of Lord Buddha have been attracting domestic and foreign tourists to the Rajgir town nearby.
Biharsharif, also part of the constituency, is known for its Hindu-Muslim unity. The dargah (tomb) of Sufi saint Shaikh Sarfuddin Yahya Maneri, arguably the most famous after the one in Ajmer, and the tomb of Hindu saint Baba Maniram, are situated next to each other. Both communities are known to pay their respects to both saints on festive occasions.
On the negative side, the constituency is full of gangs that become activate at election time and supplying cheap illegal firearms to the needy.
As many as 65 villages in the area, particularly in the Hilsa subdivision, have gained notoriety with many unemployed youth engaged in the manufacture of illegal arms, made through the use of indigenous materials. The arms are then smuggled across to the different parts of the country, especially to the Naxalite outfits and criminal gangs, many of whom have found a haven in Hilsa and, of late, the neighbouring Jehanabad district.
As per one estimate, there are 125 such factories where a revolver sells for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500; a rifle for Rs 6,000; and a gun for Rs 2,500. Efforts in the past to check the illicit factories have failed to yield results, villagers said.
The Kurmis, the cultivator class, dominate the constituency, followed by the Yadavs, then the remaining other backward class, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Muslims. The constituency has many doctors and well-educated people, but suffers from a lack of irrigation facilities, electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure for agriculture. Small business units complain of a lack of marketing facilities.
In the 1995 assembly election, the Samata Party won in Nalanda only whereas in the 1996 Lok Sabha poll, Fernandes, even as an outsider, had an edge in all the six segments.
As many as 11 candidates are in the fray this time in the constituency with 1,744 polling stations and an electorate of 1,178,070 with women constituting 558,438 voters.
The Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal has fielded a Kurmi leader and former legislator from Islampur, Ram Swaroop Prasad, in the hope of garnering Kurmi support; Kurmis number over 400,000 in the constituency.
Bihar is not new to the south Indian Fernandes, who hails from Mangalore in Karnataka. He was first elected from Bihar when he stood from Muzaffarpur in 1977. He was in prison, facing trial in the infamous Baroda dynamite case, and therefore did not campaign. The constituency returned him since then, save in 1984, until he shifted to Nalanda in 1996.
The United Front-backed CPI candidate has mounted an attack on the Samata-BJP combine in a bid to take advantage of the sizable chunk of Muslim electorate in the Islampur segment and neighbouring areas.
The contestants includes someone from the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation group. The Naxalite representative is confident of using the elections to broaden the Naxalites's base.
Fernandes, in his campaign, denounces the ''corrupt and rudderless rule of Rabri-Laloo" in Bihar where, he said, progress was absent and poverty and illiteracy on the rise. He insists that a BJP-led government at the Centre would dismiss the Rabri government in Bihar within one month of taking over.
Apart from developing the state, Fernandes says he will strive to develop the region with industries, and rail and road transport facilities beyond the Rajgir tourist spot. Besides, he will pursue the Union government for setting up an international university for Buddhist studies in Rajgir. This will promote tourism with Japanese aid and restore Nalanda's prestigious glory of learning, besides ending the archaeological vandalism that is rampant in the region.
Nalanda, particularly the Patna-Rajgir section, boasts better roads compared to the rest of Bihar, where the roads are in a state of such disrepair that it even attracted the ire of the election observers.
As part of its efforts to gear up the machinery to ensure peaceful polls in the constituency, the authorities have launched a massive drive against the illegal gun factories and liquor dens.
The police have so far unearthed 10 gun factories and 30 liquor-making units. They have also arrested 750 notorious criminals who have a police record of participation in booth-capturing. The police also served warrants against 3,500 others last month.
Armed cops, braving the biting night cold, patrol the highways and check on suspects and vehicles in the constituency.
INFOTECH | TRAVEL | LIFE/STYLE | FREEDOM | FEEDBACK