Circa 1977, posters of a bespectacled and wiry George Fernandes in handcuffs clutching prison bars were plastered all over this predominantly rural Lok Sabha constituency in north Bihar.
That is the most enduring image of George Fernandes, still etched in the minds of the
electorate of this seat, when the Socialist icon, charged with conspiring against the state, was languishing behind the bars in the Baroda dynamite case.
Not surprisingly, he won the election from his prison cell by a staggering 3.34 lakh votes riding the crest of an anti-Emergency upsurge.
The stormy petrel of the Socialist Movement, now JD (U) president and convenor of the ruling NDA, is out to prove his mettle for the 5th time from the seat he had won in 1977, 1980, 1989 and 1991 after a hiatus of about 13 years.
Fernandes, who has virtually made Bihar his political home after his emphatic victory from Muzaffarpur in 1977, has never lost an election from here, but shifted to Bangalore in 1984 and lost.
He later contested thrice from Nalanda in 1996, 1998 and 1999 winning without much trouble.
Fernandes, though locked in a multi-cornered contest, has his chief rival in RJD's Bhagwan Lal Sahni, an old RSS hand who quit the BJP about three years ago and joined Laloo Prasad Yadav's party last month.
Also in the fray are two-time MLA from Gaighat and Samajwadi Party candidate Maheshwar Prasad Yadav, Rameshwar Rai of Bahujan Samaj Party and Jitendra Yadav of CPI-ML, besides eight Independents.
Though Fernandes stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of stature, his return from Nalanda had triggered a major protest by the district unit of the BJP, which was readying for the campaign of former Union minister Jainarain Prasad Nishad, who quit the Lok Janshakti Party of Ramvilas Paswas a couple of months ago to join the saffron party.
Nearly 45 executive members of BJP's district unit barring its president Suresh Sharma quit in protest and the fire of discontent was doused only at the intervention of the party's state and central leadership.
Nishad, thrice MP from here in 1996, 1998 and 1999 is now campaigning for BJP and JD (U) candidates across the state.
Like Fernandes, the RJD nomination for Bhagwan Lal Sahni too brought to the fore the bickering in state's ruling party with the supporters of RJD MLA from Muzaffarpur Bijendra Chaudhary, an important claimant for party ticket, taking to the streets against denial of nomination to their leader.
RJD leader and vice-chairman of Muzaffarpur Zila Parishad Sabu Alam went to the extent of saying Laloo Prasad Yadav was their leader. Despite calm on the surface, poll watchers feel both Fernandes and Sahni would have to bear the consequences of disaffection of local BJP and RJD workers with them.
Though Nishad had led in all the six assembly segments--Kurhani, Sakra, Muzaffarpur, Bochaha, Gaighat and Minapur--comprising the Muzaffarpur parliamentary seat in 1999 polls, the first four seats are represented by RJD MLAs in the assembly.
However, much to the solace of Fernandes, the LJP MLA from Gaighat, Birendra Kumar Singh and Bihar People's Party MLA from Minapur, Dinesh Kumar Kushwaha recently joined the JD (U).
Fernandes and his supporters are banking on, over everything else, his stature as a national leader and his track record as mp both from Muzaffarpur and Nalanda.