Known historically as an ancient centre of learning, and politically as the seat of present Defence Minister George Fernandes, Nalanda has remained one of the focal points of the Lok Sabha poll battles over the years. But this time George Fernandes will be missing from here as Nitish Kumar has decided to contest the seat besides from Barh.
The constituency of the working-class is sharply divided into Kurmis, Muslims, Yadavs, Bhumihars and Rajputs. But the socialist Fernandes is generally regarded as the "national" and "caste-less" leader here. However, the dominating 380,000 Kurmi population has openly sided with him over the last few elections.
The Samata Party chief and current NDA convenor, Fernandes had drubbed Gaya Singh of CPI by 105821 votes in 1999 in a 9-cornered contest. In 1998, he had defeated Ram Swaroop Prasad of RJD by 115670 votes.
Fernandes had the distinction of securing more than 486,000 votes, the highest in Bihar in the 1996 election here. He defeated his nearest rival, the Janata Dal-supported CPI nominee Vijay Kumar Yadav by 168,000 votes. Yadav secured 318,000 votes. Interestingly, the position was held CPI-ML which won 3.76% of the votes that time. Yadav 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.
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.
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.
The Kurmis, the cultivator class, dominate the constituency, followed by the Yadavs, then the remaining other backward class, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Muslims.