PATNA: Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar on Tuesday broke down as he spoke on the demise of his political mentor and former party boss George Fernandes at a condolence meeting at the party’s state headquarters.
“Georgesaheb was not only our leader but also our guardian… Whatever I got to learn was under his leadership and his guidance, and today whatever efforts I am making to serve the people have been due to his guidance,” said Kumar, his voice choking with emotion and eyes welled up.
Fernandes, a towering socialist leader and former Union minister who passed away in New Delhi on Tuesday, was singularly responsible for Nitish Kumar’s rise in politics and his installation as Bihar chief minister. He was elected to Lok Sabha five times from Bihar’s Muzaffarpur.
The Bihar government announced a two-day state mourning and cancelled all official functions soon after news of Fernandes’s death came in.
Although relations between the two leaders had soured and Fernandes called Kumar an “autocrat” in 2009, the Bihar CM was unstinting in his praise for his mentor during the condolence meeting. Kumar left for New Delhi to attend Fernandes’s last rites, which would be performed on Wednesday.
“Georgesaheb’s demise has left all of us heartbroken. It was a matter of destiny, and he had been keeping ill for the past several years. So it was, in a way, emancipation for him,” said Kumar, fighting back tears and amid long pauses, in an elaborate tribute to his mentor.
Kumar, 68, had been associated with Fernandes even before the latter founded Samata Party in 1994 and made it a key ally of BJP. Fernandes served as NDA convener for several years and helped promote Kumar in both national and state politics, recalled JD(U) leaders. Fernandes
Fernandes was terribly upset with Kumar and openly called him an “autocrat” when the latter denied him a JD(U) ticket to contest from Muzaffarpur in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Kumar’s offer for a Rajya Sabha berth was rebuffed by Fernandes, who said socialists do not go to the Upper House.
A defiant Fernandes, then 79, had openly accused Kumar of betrayal and contested the LS polls as an independent candidate from Muzaffarpur only to lose his security deposit. Even though the maverick leader accepted Kumar’s offer later that year and went to RS, their relations remained on a downward slope since then.
In Muzaffarpur, from where Fernandes had won the LS polls in 1977 by a record 300,000 votes despite being in jail, people fondly talked about the “Emergency icon”. His closes aide in the town, Kamaleshwar Prasad Sinha alias Kamlubabu, 80, wept as he spoke about the Karnataka-born Fernandes’s love for Muzaffarpur and Bihar.