Dissent and disillusion

Print edition : May 16, 2014

A veiled woman watches as her vote is cast by another person in Ujina in Haryana on April 10. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

“MY thumb hurts now from repeatedly voting and getting nothing at all. This time I am going to vote for a party that cares,” said Chandobai of Neza Dela Kalan village in the Kalanwali Assembly segment in Haryana’s Sirsa district. She complained bitterly that the Congress government had failed the poor in the village, several of whom had not been allotted residential plots or ration cards.

Located less than some 10 kilometres from Sirsa town, the village, composed largely of members of the Kamboj community, has never been visited by the Congress Member of Parliament, Ashok Tanwar. Tanwar, incidentally, is seeking re-election from Sirsa and is facing a tough, three-cornered contest. His house in Sirsa town is a palatial structure and hard to miss. The district itself is a picture of sharp contrasts: rich pockets of opulence coexist with abysmal poverty.

On April 10, the day Haryana went to the polls, Sirsa recorded the highest polling at 77.11 per cent. On April 19, the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief expelled several prominent faces, including Rao Inderjit Singh, Venod Sharma and Sushil Indora, for anti-party activities. Indora had contested against Tanwar on the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) ticket. Dissension has been plaguing the Haryana Congress. There were reports of internal sabotage against official nominees. A prominent Congressman from Narwana in Sirsa allegedly enlisted the support of the opposition to defeat Tanwar.

While open dissent was seen across political parties in these elections, it was more palpable in the Congress. “The worst kind of defections were engineered in the course of these elections,” said Inderjit Singh, secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist). At Hisar, where polling was most polarised—Jat versus non-Jat—the Congress nominee Sampat Singh issued a statement through the social media, conceding defeat. He described himself as having been victimised by caste politics and the Hisar election as a contest between the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) nominee, Dushyant Chautala, and the HJC nominee and outgoing MP, Kuldeep Bishnoi. More than the Congress, the INLD may be in a position to consolidate the Jat vote. “There is practically nobody with Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda today. Even his closest friends like Venod Sharma have deserted him. The impression is that Congressmen are leaving the party because they see defeat staring at them in the face,” said a Congressman from Rohtak.

As in other Congress-ruled States, the Congress government finds itself up against double anti-incumbency. Under Hooda’s stewardship, the Congress retained nine out of 10 seats in 2004 and 2009. Hooda also came back to power in the State, albeit with a not-too-comfortable majority. His main political opponent, the INLD, performed rather well in the last Assembly elections. It is an uphill battle for the Congress to retain the nine seats it won last time. While allegations of scams at the Centre have been a political issue, at the State level, price rise, nepotism in recruitments (half a dozen recruitments were set aside by the High Court), dubious land deals and unhappiness over rampant land acquisition have been major issues. The unfulfilled promises of job generation through Special Economic Zones has been a sore issue with the electorate.

The Congress campaign has largely focussed on the so-called people-friendly policies of the Centre and the State. Hooda has been at pains to compare the Gujarat model of development with the Haryana model. An observer commented that this was like admitting that the Gujarat model was good. “But Hooda is not a prime ministerial candidate. How can he compare the two models?” asked a businessman in Hisar. Hooda has been asserting that Haryana is far ahead of Gujarat in welfare measures. Old-age pension in Haryana is Rs.1,000 a month, while it is Rs.400 in Gujarat; petrol and diesel are cheaper by Rs.8 and Rs.7 respectively in Haryana. Haryana supplies electricity at the rate of 10 paisa a unit while in Gujarat, it is Rs2.70 a unit. Sugarcane is priced at Rs.301 a quintal in Haryana whereas it is Rs.210 a quintal in Gujarat. The per capita income, the Chief Minister has claimed, is also higher in Haryana.

Some people have been comparing the 1999 Kargil war wave, which routed the Congress completely, to the present “Modi wave”. In 1999, a relatively unknown candidate put up by the BJP, Inder Singh, defeated Hooda in Rohtak. The present BJP nominee for Rohtak, Om Parkash Dhankar, believed to be a good friend of Modi.

Overall, the BJP is expected to make good gains, and political observers have pointed out that the party may win up to five parliamentary seats along with its ally, the HJC. By putting Modi upfront and projecting him with a larger-than-life image, the BJP stands to gain the most from the anti-incumbency sentiment faced by the Congress. “The projection of Modi has helped the party,” said a political observer.

Though the violence at Muzzaffarnagar was discussed in the districts bordering Uttar Pradesh, communal propaganda did not dominate the elections. While attempts to woo sections among the Jats on communal lines have been under way, religious polarisation has been minimal given the dispersed nature of the minority population in the State. In Mewat, where Muslims constitute a relatively high percentage of the population, the Meo Muslims have never been regarded as being very Islamist in outlook. Likewise, the Jats too as a peasant community has never been seen as overly rigid and ritualistic. In Haryana there is a popular saying, Jat Ka Kya Hindu aur Meo ka kya Musalmaan, meaning that neither community has a very rigid religious identity. Some sections routinely describe Mewat as a “mini-Pakistan” and also campaign against cow slaughter and cattle smuggling in order to vitiate the atmosphere. But such attempts, though increasing, have never gained currency among the general populace. The BJP candidate from Gurgaon is Rao Inderjit Singh, who was with the Congress until recently. He has refrained from using any communal rhetoric.

It was apparent that the BJP and its cohorts did not have to play the communal card because of the strong anti-incumbency wave against the Congress and also because religious polarisation is absent in much of the State. Any polarisation therefore has been that of a Jat versus non-Jat kind, accentuated more with the benefit of reservation being extended to Jats, a socially, politically and economically dominant community. It was also pointed out that barring the Left and other secular democratic fronts, no one else had much of a problem with either Modi being projected in a larger-than-life manner or his policies. The Congress in the State has never attacked or criticised the Gujarat model in the way it should have.

Caste polarisation is a reality and is the most visible in Hisar, which was the epicentre of the agitation for reservation for Jats in Central government jobs. It is also where violence between Dalits and Jats have occurred, the most infamous one being the Mirchpur incident in which homes of Dalits were set ablaze, resulting in two deaths

In Neza Dela Kalan village in Sirsa district, the mood is definitely anti-Congress. People do not seem to have benefited from the Congress model of development, neither are they optimistic that whatever lies ahead is going to benefit them greatly.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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