General Election: Haryana

Honour at stake

Print edition : April 04, 2014

Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal launching the party's election campaign in Rohtak on February 23. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Dissidence in the party and increasing disaffection with Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s “development model” make a repeat of the 2009 victory difficult for the Congress in Haryana.

IN 2009, the Congress banked heavily on Haryana to increase its tally of seats in the Lok Sabha. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda did not disappoint the party. In fact, under his leadership, the Congress repeated its stellar performance of 2004, winning nine of the 10 Lok Sabha seats on a 41 per cent vote share. (The Haryana Janhit Congress, or HJC, founded by Bhajan Lal, won one seat.) The anti-incumbency factor and open factionalism in the party made matters difficult for the Congress, but Hooda held on and emerged as the undisputed leader of the party in the State. The surprise element in that election was the total defeat of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the principal opposition party headed by Om Prakash Chautala.

But the situation looks vastly different now. There is increasing disaffection with the “development model” projected by Hooda. The Singapore that Hooda desired to make all of Haryana remains confined to a few pockets; even there the nature of such development itself has become untenable.

Hooda is unlikely to complete a hat-trick, mainly because the widespread anger against the Congress both in the State and at the Centre, has created a situation of double anti-incumbency. The opposition continues to be fragmented, in fact, there are new players who will definitely queer the pitch. However, the division of anti-Congress votes may not help the Congress. But the party is trying hard. The recent Union Cabinet decision to grant reservation for Jats in Central government jobs and admission to educational institutions may pay some dividends. But the anger against the government far outweighs the benefits of the decision, which many people feel was not necessary. It is felt that the move has distanced some of the non-Jat communities that would have otherwise voted for the Congress.

Against the backdrop of the clamour for reservation, the violence in Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh) involving members of the Jat community, and the demand for justice for those who were allegedly implicated wrongly, the Congress was pushed into recommending the inclusion of Jats in the Other Backward Classes category and making the politically and socially vociferous community eligible for reservation (story on page 41). It was only too obvious that the party resorted to a desperate measure to hold on to its traditional constituency.

In the run-up to the 2009 elections, the Hooda government had announced a slew of welfare measures. In the State budget in February, the government announced a plethora of sops. The coup de maitre, reservation for Jats followed these, delivered by the Centre.

The challenges facing the Congress are manifold. The opposition has assumed a new form, that of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), several of whose key members and leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal who hails from Bhiwani district, belong to Haryana. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to cash in on the Narendra Modi “wave” and is looking for an effective alliance partner. It is most likely to tie up with the HJC, and the INLD. Social engineering of votes can be successful with this combination as the Modi factor, anti-Congressism and consolidation of non-Jat votes can work in tandem.

What is missing at this stage is the opposition represented traditionally by the INLD, which is in a state of disarray as many of its leaders have been convicted in the 1999 junior basic trained (JBT) teachers recruitment scam. However, it would be premature to write off Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala, who have been convicted in the scam and are waiting for the High Court verdict on their petition challenging the conviction, as there is an undercurrent of sympathy for them. The BJP and the INLD had fought the 2009 elections together, contesting five seats each. There are indications that the BJP will enter into an electoral understanding on eight seats with the INLD and on two seats with the HJC this time. The Chautalas are trying to reach out to the electorate by explaining that their indictment on corruption charges was part of a conspiracy and pointing out that they had at least tried to give people jobs.

In the multi-cornered contests the State has been witnessing in recent times, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has been able to win a good proportion of the non-Jat votes, which include votes of the Scheduled Castes and OBCs. In 2009, the BSP’s vote share increased threefold whereas that of the INLD-BJP shrank. In fact, the party came second after the Congress although it did not win a single seat. This time, the AAP is expected to emerge as the keen contender for the BSP’s constituency. The HJC, with its traditional non-Jat base, has fielded candidates in the Ahirwal belt. The AAP is eyeing this belt now. Yogendra Yadav, its candidate for Gurgaon, faces Rao Inderjit Singh, a two-time Congress MP who joined the BJP recently. “People in Haryana are impressed with the AAP’s performance in the Delhi Assembly elections. But there is some disenchantment with the AAP as it could not stay on in government,” said a political observer. In Haryana, there is not much difference between State and Central issues in view of the geographical proximity of the State to Delhi.

Apart from issues such as inflation, unemployment and corruption that contributed to the decimation of the Congress in the Delhi elections, in Haryana, issues such as frequent labour unrest, minimum support price for agricultural produce in the face of rising input costs, lack of an agricultural policy, disaffection among the agricultural community over land acquisition and the disproportionate benefits allegedly being cornered by a section of the top leadership of the Congress influence the mood of the electorate. The AAP has struck an early chord with sections of the electorate by exposing the links between corporate houses and the political class.

The first AAP rally in Rohtak was impressive though its acknowledgment of the right of the khap panchayats to exist was not received well. The khaps, however, rebuffed the AAP, choosing rather to be non-committal on taking a political stand. The AAP has fielded candidates in Gurgaon, Bhiwani, Hisar, Kurukshetra, Rohtak and Sonepat. Congress insiders admit that the party is likely to make an impact in at least two seats. Political observers believe that the AAP might play a political spoiler. In such a scenario, it might be interesting to see which combination benefits the most from the anti-Congress sentiment.

The Left parties have fielded candidates in five seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) is contesting from Hisar, Sirsa (reserved) and Bhiwani and the Communist Party of India in Karnal and Ambala.

The Congress in all probability will field all its star candidates—the Chief Minister’s son, Deepender Singh Hooda, from Rohtak; Shruti Chowdhary from Bhiwani, Jitender Singh Malik from Sonepat; Naveen Jindal from Kurukshetra; and Ashok Tanwar, State party president, from Sirsa. By nominating Kumari Selja, Union Minister and a known Hooda critic, to the Rajya Sabha, the party has indicated that it did not want to risk fielding her in Ambala, given the fact that she won the seat with the second lowest margin in the State in 2009.

The Congress is also troubled by dissent. Apart from Rao Inderjit Singh, Venod Sharma, former Union Minister and Congress MLA from Ambala, has quit the party. Sharma hopes to be the HJC-BJP candidate in Karnal although senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and the local BJP unit are opposed to the idea. Krishna Gahlawat, former Minister and former All India Mahila Congress vice-president, resigned stating that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was unfit to become Prime Minister. She went on to praise the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. In Bhiwani, the sitting MP, Kiran Chowdhury, faces opposition from a party MLA who is an aspirant for the seat. Bhiwani is an interesting seat to watch out for as the fortunes of Ajay Chautala are linked inextricably with this seat.

In 2009, the Congress led in 59 of the 90 Assembly segments, the INLD in seven, the BSP in eight and the HJC in nine. Whether Hooda will be able to halt the anti-Congress wave will be worth watching.