Janata Dal-United (JD-U) veteran George Fernandes' decision to contest the polls as an independent from Muzaffarpur in Bihar after being denied a ticket is troubling many party members. Some say it could dampen the winning prospects of the party's candidate in the constituency, others feel letting the senior leader down could tarnish its image.
"What worries (chief minister) Nitish Kumar is that Fernandes' presence in Muzaffarpur will put a big question mark on the fate of the official party candidate (in Muzaffarpur) Captain Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad, and other parliamentary constituencies, particularly those adjacent to it," a senior JD-U leader close to Nitish Kumar said on condition of anonymity.
Nishad, a former central minister, had quit railway minister Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and joined JD-U last week.
Fernandes had announced his decision to contest as an Independent after the JD-U denied him ticket on grounds of his "advancing years and failing health".
The veteran leader was offered support by dissident JD-U leaders, mostly those who have been denied party tickets to contest polls or those unhappy with Nitish Kumar's style of functioning, and old socialist leaders from other parties.
Several JD-U leaders are of the view that it was wrong on the party's part to deny Fernandes a ticket.
"The party national president Sharad Yadav and Nitish Kumar had ignored Fernandes in his old age ... it may affect the image of the party not only in Muzaffarpur but elsewhere," a JD-U legislator said.
"Fernandes may win or lose the elections from Muzaffarpur but his decision to contest is a bad omen for JD-U as it sent a message that the founder of the party was humiliated and forced to contest as an independent," said Ram Jeevan Singh, the vice president of the party who resigned from JD-U along with Gajendra Prasad Himanshu, another senior party leader.
Fernandes, known for his fiery oratory, was elected from Muzaffarpur for the first time in 1977 when he was behind bars, after being jailed during the Emergency. He is a familiar face in the constituency. He won the seat also in 1980, 1989, 1991 and 2004. In 1984, he shifted to Mumbai but lost in the pro-Congress wave following former prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination.
Earlier, Fernandes had said people talking about his ill-health would get "a fitting reply" after the Lok Sabha elections.
Fernandes had received a hero's welcome from his supporters at Patna airport on his arrival from New Delhi on Tuesday. He left for Muzaffarpur soon after.
He had planned to walk to Nitish Kumar's residence to demonstrate he was in sound health. But he cancelled the march after being told the chief minister had left for New Delhi.