Advantage Congress

Print edition : October 09, 2009

Sampat Singh (left), a long-time colleague of INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala, with Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda after joining the Congress, in Chandigarh on July 27.-AKHILESH KUMAR Sampat Singh (left), a long-time colleague of INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala, with Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda after joining the Congress, in Chandigarh on July 27.

ON August 21, it was with a considerable degree of confidence that Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his Cabinet decided to dissolve the Assembly and hold elections in October, almost seven months ahead of schedule. The elections were due only in March 2010. However, the ruling Congress had won nine out of Haryanas 10 Lok Sabha seats in the general elections this year and, predictably, was keen on early Assembly elections. Voting is scheduled for October 13.

It was under Hoodas leadership that the Congress repeated its 2004 Lok Sabha performance in 2009. In the 2005 Assembly elections, too, he led the party to win 67 of the 90 seats, reducing the main opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), and its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to non-entities. For the Congresss central leadership and the influential Jat electorate back home, Hooda seems to have emerged as the leader most capable of representing the interests of the party and his community.

The Congress had a 41 per cent vote share in the 2009 general elections as compared with the 42.46 per cent it secured in the 2005 Assembly elections. The INLDs vote share dipped from 22.43 per cent in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections (in the 2005 Assembly polls, the party secured 26.95 per cent) to 15.6 per cent in 2009. In fact, its vote share was marginally lower than that of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which improved its vote share from 4.98 per cent in 2004 to 15.73 per cent in 2009. The BSP contested 82 Assembly seats in 2005 and won on only one and secured 3.44 per cent of the vote share. Its performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections was, therefore, commendable though it did not win a single seat. The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), floated last year by former Congress Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, secured 10 per cent of the vote share.

A hopelessly divided opposition was the main reason for the Congress sweep in the recent general elections. In the Assembly elections, too, the Congress may gain from the lack of a credible and united opposition. Bhajan Lal formed the HJC in an effort to wean away popular support from the Congress, but he found that there was little he could do. Far from causing any major damage to the parent party, the HJC narrowly won just one seat in the Lok Sabha elections Hisar, where Bhajan Lal was the candidate.

The failure of the mainstream opposition parties to forge alliances, therefore, seems likely to help the Congress keep up its winning streak. The BJP and the INLD, which contested together in the past, were the first to fall out. Then, relations between the HJC and the BSP became strained. The two parties had intended to contest on a 50:40 ratio for the 90-member Assembly. Disagreement over the ratio of seats is believed to be what provoked the quarrel, but State president and national secretary of the BSP, Sardar Mansingh Manhera, declared at a press conference that it was the HJCs attempt to forge a covert alliance with the BJP that caused the rift. The BSP claimed that it could not have an alliance with a party that was inclined for a tie-up with a communal outfit.

Now, ahead of the last date for the withdrawal of nominations, September 29, an exodus seems to be under way from the ranks of the BSP and other parties. Most of the BSP deserters have joined the Congress, including those who won as independent candidates last time. When the Congress distributes the party ticket, the aspirants who are denied the ticket would approach parties like the BSP and the HJC, while their own members would take an exit and join the Congress. It has already started happening, said a political observer.

On September 11, after the HJC announced its first list of candidates, two Bhajan Lal loyalists, Devender Sharma and Harvinder Kalyan, joined the BSP after being denied the ticket. Three BSP leaders who contested in the Lok Sabha elections deserted that party. Of the two sitting BJP MLAs, the legislator from Narnaul joined the Congress.

Dissensions within the Congress have also started coming out in the open. At an election-related meeting in Bhiwani, Congress workers clashed in the presence of the partys political observer.

The INLD received its worst blow when Chaudhary Sampat Singh, a former Finance Minister and party supremo Om Prakash Chautalas ally of 32 years, left the party and joined the Congress. In the Lok Sabha elections, he narrowly lost Hisar, by about 6,983 votes, to Bhajan Lal. There was speculation that Chautala might have conspired to ensure Bhajan Lals victory in a bid to get his son, Ajay Chautala, elected from Bhiwani. Bhiwani, however, went to a political novice, Shruti Choudhary of the Congress. This was Ajay Chautalas second defeat. Earlier, he had lost to Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of Bhajan Lal and the president of the HJC.

What was remarkable in the Lok Sabha outcome was that though the Congress was a divided house it could put up a good performance because either the dissident leaders within the party or nominees backed by them managed to secure victories on the Congress ticket. In the absence of a unified opposition, the elections may end up being a Congress versus Congress affair eventually, commented a political observer. In the past five years, the Left was probably the only credible opposition in Haryana. The stranglehold of caste politics meant that the Left could not make its presence in the Assembly. However, it is recognised, though only in a few circles, that it is only the Left that has been speaking up for government employees and workers in the unorganised sector and protesting against the rising crime rate and the undemocratic fiats of the khap panchayats

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or the CPI(M), and the Communist Party of India (CPI) are contesting the elections together, 11 and eight seats respectively. The Left parties had urged the BSP and the HJC to form a common platform for the Lok Sabha elections, though nothing came of it.

The Congress, therefore, seems set for a smooth run. Yet, it is not as if there is no resentment against the government. One political observer said: Not a single unit of electricity was added in his [Hoodas] tenure and the land acquired for setting up six SEZs [special economic zones] was not developed. Compensation for land acquired for industry is also a major issue. There have been complaints about the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Peasants are believed to be unhappy with the reduced rates of compensation for crop failure announced by the government.

Almost throughout the summer, the Congress carried out a media campaign and successfully pushed under the carpet real issues such as the distress of the peasantry, the effects of the prolonged drought, the lowered prospects of the kharif crop because of untimely and excessive rains, and the spiralling crime situation.

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