A wave of sorrow swept across Bihar today following the death of veteran socialist leader George Fernandes, who had virtually adopted the state as his second home and political ''karmabhoomi'', representing its various constituencies in Parliament for a period spanning over four decades.
Condolences poured in from all quarters, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar declaring a two-day state mourning. Sources in the CM's office said Mr Kumar was likely to rush to Delhi for attending the funeral of George Fernandes, with whom he had founded the Samata Party in the 1990s.
Jailed RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, who remained in the crosshairs of the fiery George Fernandes for much part of his political career, tweeted, "Extremely saddened to hear about the demise of socialist leader, freedom fighter and former Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes".
Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi said on Twitter, "A great fighter and symbol of anti-Congressism. Architect of alliance between BJP and Samata Party which led to fall of RJD rule in Bihar. As convenor of NDA played an important role in Ataljis government. Nobody can match George. RIP".
In a moving statement, former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who had succeeded George Fernandes as the NDA convenor, called the late leader a "father figure and role model" who belonged to the Janata Dal family of socialists but had friends in every political party.
Others who issued condolence messages included Governor Lalji Tandon, former chief Ministers Jagannath Mishra and Jitan Ram Manjhi, and state BJP president Nityanand Rai.
Old-timers in the state fondly recall the sensational electoral victory of George Fernandes from Muzaffarpur in 1977 by a margin of more than 3 lakh votes, polling a staggering 78 per cent of the total votes cast.
Except for a handful, none of the voters had ever seen him in person as he was lodged in jail in connection with the Baroda dynamite case.
People recall the election campaign having been carried out with supporters of the Janata Party--a jumbo coalition of disparate political groups opposed to the Emergency stitched together by Jayaprakash Narayan-- carrying posters of a heavily-shackled Fernandes, who had earned by that time the reputation of a man who stood up to power, having organised a nationwide railway strike three years earlier.