It's been touted as the last electoral battle of George Fernandes. And his supporters in Muzaffarpur constituency in Bihar are working hard to ensure the defeat of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) candidate after the party denied a ticket to him.
"We are doing everything to see the defeat of the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) candidate to force (Bihar Chief Minister) Nitish Kumar to realise his blunder by denying a ticket to Fernandes," Rajeev Ranjan, a young socialist leader in Fernandes' campaign, said.
The JD-U denied Fernandes a nomination on the grounds of his "advancing years and failing health". Another Fernandes supporter and a former MP Ram Jeevan Singh said: "Fernandes' presence is set to spoil the chances of the JD-U candidate." Fernandes is contesting as an independent against official JD-U candidate Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad.
Nishad's problems are compounded by the fact that he does not enjoy a political stature like Fernandes. Local JD-U leaders and alliance partner BJP have also distanced themselves from him.
Fernandes, during a week-long campaign, took part in road shows, small rallies and street corner public meetings before he left for New Delhi on Tuesday night. "My people will win (the elections) for me. I will come back to collect my certificate," he said.
Five-time MP from Muzaffarpur, Fernandes, during the poll campaign, repeatedly said that this will be his last election."I am contesting from Muzaffarpur to challenge my former colleagues, who have shamelessly shed any attempt to even pretend that they are democrats. Power has gone to their heads," he said.
Fernandes, 78, in his speeches banked on the sympathy factor and said: "Give me your vote and support as I am old and nearing my end. My only wish is to breathe my last as your representative." His calls seem to have made an impact with the electorate and may eat into NDA's pie. "Fernandes deserves our support and sympathy," said Arun Singh, a businessman.
Harender Kumar, a government official, said: "Our culture teaches us to respect and help an old man like Fernandes." Both Singh and Kumar claim to be staunch supporters of NDA but now say that they will vote for Fernandes.
Apart from Fernandes, others in the fray include Nishad, Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Janshakti Party's Bhagwan Lal Sahni and Congress nominee Vinita Vijay. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Sahni was defeated by less than 10,000 votes by Fernandes.
Fernandes was elected from Muzaffarpur for the first time in 1977 when he was behind bars in the Baroda dynamite case. He won again in 1980, 1989, 1991 and 2004 from here. He had switched over to Nalanda and won in 1996, 1998 and 1999.