Messages from the States

Print edition : March 21, 1998

Total seats 10Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya) 4Congress(I) 3Bharatiya Janata Party 1Haryana Vikas Party 1(The election to the Mandi seat will be held in June.)

On March 3, the Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya) learned that it, along with the Congress(I)-Bahujan Samaj Party front, had all but wiped out the ruling Haryana Vikas Party(HVP)-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance.

But soon after the results were announced, HLD(R) leader Om Prakash Chautala decided to offer unconditional support to the BJP. Ironically, he had spent much of his time during the election campaign attacking the BJP both for its role in the State Government and for its lack of political ethics.

Chautala's volte-face is not as incredible as it might seem. Frontline had suggested in its election coverage of Haryana that the HLD(R)'s principal interest in parliamentary representation was to use its MPs as leverage to bring about the dismissal of the Bansi Lal Government. The BJP had responded to these observations with the claim that its commitment to the HVP was rock solid.

However, in the context of the ongoing political developments, it is not clear just how enduring its relationship with the HVP will be. The Bansi Lal Government depends heavily on the support of BJP MLAs for its survival. But many of them have in the past few months made evident their displeasure with the Government's handling of the peasants' agitation that was provoked by unpopular World Bank-authored power tariff reforms.

The HVP-BJP's defeat in the elections was a result of its highly unpopular policies. The HVP could manage only one seat; Bansi Lal's son Surinder Singh defeated the HLD(R)'s Ajay Chautala, son of Om Prakash Chautala by a margin of 9,711 votes. Even this slender margin was because of the split in the anti-incumbency votes - Congress(I) candidate and Bansi Lal's estranged son Ranbir Singh polled 27,784 votes.

Elsewhere, however, three-way division of votes did little to help the HVP-BJP combine. Outgoing Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha Suraj Bhan was trounced in Ambala - he lost by 2,864 votes to Aman Nagra, the first BSP candidate to be elected to the Lok Sabha from Haryana.

The BJP's I.D.Swami lost to former Congress(I) Chief Minister Bhajan Lal by 52,060 votes. Another BJP nominee, Colonel Ram Singh, lost to the Congress(I)'s Rao Indrajit Singh in Mahendragarh by 68,136 votes. In Hissar, HVP heavyweight Om Prakash Jindal lost to the HLD(R)'s S.S.Barwala by 80,491 votes.

The BJP won only the Faridabad seat where its candidate Ramachandra Bhianda defeated the Congress(I)'s Khurshid Ahmad. Simmering communal tension, coupled with an industrial recession, appears to have aided the party here.

Among the victims were former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal who lost to the Congress(I)'s Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the Rohtak constituency by just 383 votes. The ailing patriarch of Haryana politics had told the voters that this was his last campaign. This platform obviously won him considerable support. In Kurukshetra, the constituency that saw the largest turnout in the State, Kailasho Devi defeated Congress(I) candidate Kuldip Singh with the highest margin of 1,41,520 votes.

The second worst defeat was that of the HVP's Abhey Ram Bahiya, who lost to the HLD(R)'s Krishan Sangwan by 1,37,324 votes.

It is far from clear to what extent Sonia Gandhi's poll-eve barnstorming of rural Haryana benefited the Congress(I). From a position of winning just two seats in 1996, the party along with the BSP now holds four seats, a level identical to that of the HLD(R). Yet, while Sonia Gandhi's entry did lead the party's feuding factions to settle their differences, her immediate impact on regional constituency-level politics is more difficult to gauge. For example, former Union Minister Selja Kumari, for whose campaign Sonia Gandhi made a special visit to Sirsa, lost by 93,930 votes. It would appear that resentment against the State Government, as well as the individual profiles of candidates, played a decisive role in shaping the poll outcome.

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