ON March 24, while addressing an election meeting in Barwala in the Hisar Lok Sabha constituency, Haryana Chief Minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief Om Prakash Chautala made a statement that perhaps underscored the pivotal role of regional parties in national politics. He said that if the people would elect INLD candidates contesting in all the 10 seats in the State, he would make the Centre literally dance on the tip of the seed of Tindsi, a kind of gourd. In other words, Chautala was telling the people about the necessity to vote for his party, which would then hypothetically increase the clout of Haryana at the Centre.
The electoral battle in Haryana may be a four-cornered one with the Congress(I), the INLD, Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) and the BJP contesting independently. It would have been a three-cornered one had the BJP not decided to break its alliance with the INLD. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and the INLD contested and won five seats each. In February 2000, the INLD went in for early Assembly elections to consolidate its base and returned to power with a comfortable majority with the BJP supporting it from outside.
Four years since then the BJP realised that the odds in the State were against Chautala. With Assembly elections scheduled for 2005, the BJP thought it prudent to sever its ties with the INLD if it were to escape the anti-incumbency factor. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani even suggested at Palwal that the people should not waste their votes on any regional party. Chautala, on the other hand, has been using Advani's statement to the hilt and has highlighted the BJP's alleged bias against regional parties.
For four years, Chautala never spoke a word against the BJP, least of all calling it communal. But now he attacks the party on every occasion but taking care not to name Vajpayee. Chautala also reminds the people of his late father Choudhary Devi Lal as the only true representative of the Jat community, which has a dominant presence in Haryana. He has, like Devi Lal, begun to use terms like poonjipati (capitalist) to describe the BJP. He has even gone to the extent of asking for the people's forgiveness for allying with the BJP and requesting them not to vent their anger against him by pressing the "wrong button". Meanwhile, the exit of senior Minister Kartar Singh Bhadana from the party and the government has dealt a blow to the INLD. Bhadana joined the BJP.
Inderjit Singh, secretary of the Haryana unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), says: "It is sheer opportunism. While the sole agenda is to capture power in Chandigarh, none of these parties wants to antagonise the ruling party at the Centre. Chautala is still not criticising the BJP for its policies. Both the HVP and the INLD are in a dilemma as they cannot oppose the BJP for they have been its alliance partner."
The Congress(I), which barely managed to hold on to three seats in 1998 and drew a blank the following year, appears to be in an advantageous situation. But the party is yet to get its act together. The Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, says that the worst phase for the Congress(I) was in 1996 when its vote share plummeted to 22.8 per cent and not 1999, when its vote share rose to 35 per cent. On the factionalism in the party, he told Frontline that it was a fact and that there was a difference of opinion between him and Bhajan Lal on how to run the party. "The party will fight the elections unitedly on the issues of unemployment and the worsening law and order situation," he said.