Haryana's dilemma

Print edition : February 11, 2005

The Indian National Lok Dal has a rough ride ahead, though its main rival, the Congress, is plagued by rebels and factionalism.

T.K. RAJALAKSHMI in Chandigarh

Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala, who is contesting against Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala from Narwana, at an election rally in the constituency.-

IF the voters's mood in the Narwana Assembly constituency in Haryana's Jind district is anything to go by, the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) will have to battle heavy odds to retain power. Seeking re-election from the constituency is Chief Minister and INLD president Om Prakash Chautala. Opposing him is the Congress' Randeep Singh Surjewala, who lost in the 2000 elections by a margin of 2,194 votes.

Chautala is facing an uphill task in Narwana despite the fact he has nurtured his constituency well. Voters say that under his regime about 4,000 people from Narwana got government jobs, more than any other region in the State. Rajbir, an INLD sympathiser, said: "Chautala has done a lot of development work here. He will win this time too, but the margin will be lower." Several others agreed. But a shopkeeper, who did not want to be named, said: "Unemployment is the main issue here. There is no money in agriculture as the production costs are very high. A lot of educated youngsters do not have jobs. The government gave jobs, but several people were left out. What shall we do with roads?" Perhaps it is after sensing this mood that the INLD's manifesto promised to create five lakh jobs in the next five years.

At Saccha Khera village in Narwana, with about 2,000 voters, the mood seemed to favour Chautala. But even here people were unwilling to say that it will be a comfortable victory. "We listen to everyone who comes and gives a speech, but we will do what we feel like," said Hari Krishen, a former sarpanch. He said that 90 people from his village were given government jobs. The complaint is that while some got jobs, others did not. Importantly, triggering rumours that he himself was not confident about the outcome in Narwana, Chautala has filed his nomination from Rori too. In 2000, Chautala's son Abhay won from Rori.

Resentment against the INLD is palpable in other parts of the State too. At Badopal village, under the Bhattu Kalan constituency, the non-Jat population comprising potters and daily wage labourers criticised the party. "The sarpanch is an INLD man, but we will vote for whoever we like," a villager said. Said another resident: "There are no jobs, no water and the landlord is in a crisis. No one listens to the poor." He added that people were afraid to speak out against the INLD government.

The results of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections too do not augur well for the INLD. The Congress won nine of the 10 seats and 43 per cent of the votes polled. The INLD polled 22 per cent of the votes but drew a blank in terms of seats. Its former ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, got one seat and 17 per cent of the votes polled. Former Chief Minister Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), which merged with the Congress later, secured 6 per cent of the votes polled. In the 2000 Assembly elections, the INLD won 47 seats, the Congress 21, the BJP six and the HVP two.

Om Prakash Chautala.-SANDEEP SAXENA

AFTER the last date for the withdrawal of nominations for the February 3 elections, 983 candidates were in the fray for the 90 seats. While the Congress and the BJP are contesting all the 90 seats, the INLD has put up candidates in 89 and has extended support to an independent candidate from Ambala Cantonment. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is contesting 84 seats, the Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) 30, the former Union Minister Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) 12 and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) five.

All the parties are going it alone. A close aide of Chautala said that efforts to forge an alliance with the BSP had failed. The INLD, he said, was not averse to post-election alliances. About its former ally, the party leader said: "The BJP went too far in opposing us. In any case, we feel that the BJP votes will only divide the Opposition vote bank and therefore will not affect us." According to political observers, the INLD would prefer the BSP to go it alone. Its reading is that if the BSP contests on its own, it could erode the Dalit vote base of the Congress. The INLD's main support base is the Jat community.

The Congress seems to be confident of victory. "After the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has been on a high. They already see themselves as occupying the throne at Chandigarh," said a political observer. Relatives of almost every important Congress leader in the State have found a place in the party's list of candidates. Among them are Randeep Singh Surjewala and his father S.S. Surjewala; Randheer, brother of Jai Prakash, Congress Member of Parliament from Hissar; Ranbir Singh Mahendra, president-elect of the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI) and Surender Singh, both sons of Bansi Lal; Chandramohan and Duhraram, son and nephew respectively of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee president Bhajan Lal; industrialist O.P. Jindal, father of Navin Jindal, the Congress MP from Kurukshetra; and Gurdeep Singh, the son of Atma Singh Gill, MP from Sirsa.

Disturbing the Congress is factionalism and the large number of party rebels in the fray. It is estimated that rebels are posing problems to party candidates in at least three dozen seats, especially those falling under the Hissar, Jind and Sirsa Lok Sabha constituencies. In the Hissar Assembly segment, O.P. Jindal's prospects are marred by a Congress rebel, who enjoys Bhajan Lal's support, rather than by the INLD candidate. The BJP too is facing a rebellion within its ranks over the official nominee to this seat.

In Barwala, there is open opposition to Congress nominee Randheer. The "panchayati" candidate or the one chosen by consensus is Anant Ram, who is rumoured to have the HPCC chief's blessings. The INLD too is not free of trouble. Party workers are supporting Rajiv Raja, one of the ticket aspirants. The "outsider" factor dominates in Barwala as people say both the candidates are not from the area. "There is a tilt towards the Congress but the party should have paid heed to the sentiments of the people," said Richhpal, a shopkeeper in Barwala town. At the Congress rebel's office, the mood is defiant. Surender, spokesperson for Anant Ram, said: "Our panchayat took a decision that a local person would be given the ticket. Jai Prakash assured us and all other Congress leaders that a local person would be nominated. Instead he [Jai Prakash] got the ticket for his brother. I can't name anyone, but the rest of the Congress leaders support our candidate."

In Ghirai, though it is claimed that the Congress nominee, Chattarpal Singh, will win easily, Jogi Ram, a rebel, may prove to be a spoiler. In Bhattu Kalan, the stronghold of Sampat Singh, the outgoing Finance Minister, people seemed to be sceptical about the fortunes of the party nominee Kulvir Beniwal. "If Bhajan Lal comes to campaign for Kulvir, he will win. Otherwise there is little chance," said a Congress worker. A strong independent candidate, Rajendra Beniwal, might cause the contest to be a triangular one. The BJP's candidate here, people said, was in the fourth position as far as his winning prospects were concerned.

In Ratia (Reserved), Congress nominee Gurdeep Singh faces two rebels. Here the INLD too faces rebellion as the sitting MLA, Jarnail Singh, was not renominated. At Tohana in the Sirsa Lok Sabha constituency, a prominent Congress leader has propped up a BSP candidate against the party nominee.

What is significant about the rebels is that they are supported by important Congress leaders trying to exploit the Jat/non-Jat divide in the State. Bhajan Lal has successfully emerged as a non-Jat leader rallying all the other castes, opposed as they are to what they perceive as the "Jat hegemony" in Haryana. It serves Chautala to support a non-Jat leader, for if a Jat leader emerges from within the ranks of the Congress, his position as the unchallenged leader of the community in the State will be weakened.

"There is no party politics here - it is very personalised. That is why most of the issues are not even raised by the two main leading parties," said Inderjit Singh, CPI(M) State secretary. The party's candidates include former MLA Harpal Singh from Tohana and Satbir Singh, State general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), from Hissar.

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