Benevolent rebels

Print edition : October 23, 2009
in Hisar and Rohtak

Kuldeep Bishnoi, President of the Haryana Janhit Congress, displays his party's new election symbol at a press conference in Chandigarh on August 7.-AKHILESH KUMAR

THE voting percentage in Haryana usually crosses the 50 per cent mark. This time, however, it is expected to touch the 75 per cent mark when the State goes to the polls on October 13.

On the face of it, the ruling Congress, led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has a decided edge over the divided opposition. Yet, upsets cannot be ruled out because there seems to be a lot of resentment against the sitting Congress legislators, most of whom have been renominated.

A farmer in Hisar district made a paradoxical observation: It will be a Congress government in the State led by Hooda, but whether the partys candidates will win is not clear. The sentiment probably indicates the support that Congress rebel candidates might get from factions within the party. In the end, that might translate into a Congress government again, but without many of the present legislators and official election candidates. As for the opposition, the farmer lamented that it had not even come up with a proper slogan.

Apart from the party nominees, the independent candidates and the rebels, there is another category of candidates in Haryana the panchayati ummeedwars, or panchayati candidates. They are often put up as consensus candidates by panchayats and frequently put up a tough fight, especially if the incumbent legislators are unpopular. At Meham in Rohtak district, Shamsher Singh Ahlawat, a builder in Gurgaon, is the panchayati candidate against the Congress nominee and sitting MLA, Anand Singh Dangi, whose popularity is somewhat eroded. In the Beri segment, the Speaker of the dissolved Assembly, Raghubir Singh Kadyan, is also not very popular. Kadyan, incidentally, had maintained a studious silence in the midst of the controversy surrounding the decisions of khap panchayats in his area. The presence of Chattar Singh, an independent candidate propped up by a faction of the Congress, may dent Kadyans electoral prospects.

There will be several multi-cornered contests as almost every party is contesting the 90 seats. Almost 1,500 candidates have filed their nominations. The battle in the seven Assembly segments of Hisar district will be especially interesting with several stalwarts in the fray Sampat Singh, former Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader; Kuldeep Bishnoi, president of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) and son of former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal; Jai Prakash, a former Minister of the Congress who unsuccessfully contested the Hisar parliamentary elections against Bhajan Lal; Savitri Jindal, the mother of Congress Member of Parliament Navin Jindal and Revenue Minister in the Hooda government; and Jasma Devi, wife of Bhajan Lal who is leading the campaign for his family and the party in Hisar.

The HJCs pockets of influence are confined largely to Hisar district. In the Adampur constituency, Kuldeep Bishnoi and Congressman Jai Prakash are pitted against each other. Adampur, considered a safe seat for anyone contesting from the Bhajan Lal family, is likely to be a cakewalk for Bishnoi. As for Jai Prakash, Congress sources revealed that both INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala and the Congress wanted him to lose. The INLD candidate in Adampur is a relative of Chautala and is perceived to be a dummy candidate. Bishnois victory, thus, seems to be a foregone conclusion.

In the Nalwa Assembly segment, Jasma Devi of the HJC faces Sampat Singh, who snapped his three-decade-long ties with the INLD to join the Congress. Sampat Singhs constituency, Bhattu Kalan, got dissolved in the delimitation exercise, leaving him little option but to fight from Nalwa. His son, Gaurav Singh, who was holding fort for him at Hisar town, told Frontline that his father was a deeply respected man and everyone knew that Chautala had conspired with Bhajan Lal to get him defeated from Hisar in the April 2009 parliamentary elections in order to improve son Ajay Chautalas prospects in Bhiwani.

On polling day, we found that our polling agents from Hisar, Hansi and Barwala were taken to Bhiwani to help out Ajay Chautala. This was a big betrayal. Even now, there is an unspoken alliance between the INLD and the HJC against my father. The HJC did not announce its candidate for the Nalwa seat even though the INLD did. As soon as my fathers name was announced as the Congress nominee, Bhajan Lal got his wife nominated from the HJC platform from Nalwa, he said. He was confident of the support of old-timers in the INLD and the Congress. His father, he said, was campaigning hard in the rural areas.

Activists of the HJC are confident that Jasma Devi will win safely. Barring the Narnaund segment, we will win all the segments in Hisar, including Nalwa, an HJC worker said. In Narnaund, the HJC candidates nomination was rejected on technical grounds.

In the 1987 elections, Jasma Devi won against all odds on the Congress ticket from Adampur at a time when the Lok Dal led by Chaudhary Devi Lal won 85 of the 90 seats, a party worker said. Adampur and Nalwa are Bhajan Lals family constituencies. No one from this family has lost Adampur since 1968, another party worker observed. A Congress worker quipped: At Nalwa, in order to defeat Sampat Singh, Chautala wont mind sacrificing his own candidate in favour of Jasma Devi.

Congress supporters campaigning for Mahender Partap Singh, the party candidate from Badkhal constituency, at Anangpur village in Faridabad district on September 29.-PTI

If two of Bhajan Lals relatives are contesting from Hisar, in neighbouring Fatehabad district, his nephew Dula Ram has been re-nominated once again as the Congress candidate.

At Savitri Jindals office, Congress workers were a contented lot. Her opponents from the INLD and the HJC were rank newcomers, her supporters said. They admitted, however, that the veteran MLA Amir Chand Makkad, after being denied the Congress ticket, was contesting as a rebel against Savitri Jindal from Hansi. At Uklana, a constituency reserved for the Scheduled Castes, a distant relative of Union Minister Kumari Selja is a rebel Congress candidate. In the Barwala segment, almost every party has to contend with rebel candidates.

The INLDs pockets of strength are confined to Sirsa, Kaithal and Jind districts. But in Sirsa, Chautalas home district, the support of the rich peasantry has gravitated towards the Congress. The INLD has a seat-sharing pact with the Akali Dal on two seats. In fact, most of the INLD constituencies are reserved seats. But by losing Sushil Kumar Indora, a confidant of Chautala, to the Congress, the INLD has lost some ground among the Scheduled Caste electorate.

In the 2005 elections the government promised 10 lakh jobs, investment worth Rs.10,000 crore, improvement in the deteriorating law and order situation, and so on. Many of these promises were not fulfilled. As land acquisition became the catchword in and around Haryana and the government went on an acquiring spree, the landed peasantry sold off their lands and purchased land in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Ironically, many of the acquired plots are still vacant and many of those who had sold their land now complain that they were not compensated adequately.

The land bought by Reliance Industries in Jhajjar district was neither used to set up special economic zones (SEZs) nor re-diverted for agricultural use. A total of 66 SEZs have been approved for development by the State government, but work has not begun in a single one of them. There are several pending cases against industrial workers, including 62 cases against workers involved in the agitation in the Honda Motorcycle and Scooter (India) Pvt. Ltd in Gurgaon. (On July 25, 2005, a few months after the Hooda government was sworn in, the police lathi-charged workers of the company who had been on a protest after some of their colleagues were suspended and the company declared an illegal lockout even after an agreement with the union.) However, Hooda is still considered a person with whom dialogue is possible. A trade union leader said that the Chief Ministers image was not as bad as that of Bishnoi or Chautala.

In the matter of dealing with khap panchayats and their kangaroo courts, however, the Hooda administrations record is not distinguished. In the past five years, the law and order situation has deteriorated. A document brought out by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India said that in 2008 alone more than 600 cases of rape and 269 dowry deaths had occurred in the State. More than 56 per cent of the women and 83 per cent of the children in the State are reportedly anaemic. Workers are forced to work for more than 12 hours a day. The challenge here is getting the minimum monthly wage of Rs.3,510 fixed, said Inderjit Singh, State secretary of the CPI(M).

The electorate is not very happy with the way things are going in the State and the older citizens perceive that the situation might worsen in the years to come. Nobody wants to have only tea. Everyone wants biscuits and sweets as well, said 74-year-old Chandi Ram, referring to the general bankruptcy of the political class.

The public is okay, but the politicians are not; the manifestos say something and the parties do something else, he lamented, pointing out that only the Left parties had forged a principled alliance in the State. Theirs is the only one that cannot be called opportunistic, but they do not have a presence in the Assembly as of now.

According to him, people would vote for Hooda because they had no choice. Look what Chautala did to Sampat after so many years of association. These things were unheard of earlier, he commented.

These elections will be a litmus test for the non-Congress parties. The Congress, no doubt, has the upper hand and Hooda will be the ultimate beneficiary of the lack of a united or cohesive opposition.

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