Uncertain race

Print edition : April 18, 2014

Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda with his son and Congress candidate Deepender Singh Hooda at a public meeting in Rohtak on March 21. Photo: PTI

THE cliched adage “In politics, there are no permanent friends or foes” may be apt for Haryana where not only have major switchovers taken place in March, but the political weather seems to have somewhat eased for the ruling Congress. In fact, when Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda declared rather triumphantly on television “Tamaasha dekho” (watch the fun), while referring to the BJP having inducted at least eight Congress members on “udhaar” (loan), viewers were left stupefied. He was referring to the exodus from his own party. While this highlighted the relative political bankruptcy of the BJP, it left no one in doubt about the similarity of the policies and politics practised by the two major parties.

While the predominant mood continues to be very much against the establishment in the State and at the Centre, certain developments coupled with the lack of a much-talked-about “wave” show that the Congress, which had been completely written off earlier, may yet, notwithstanding the defections, be able to weather the storm, albeit to a reduced degree.

It is now clear that there are going to be multi-cornered contests for each of the 10 seats in the State, with the parties vying for a share of the caste pie. Price rise, corruption, unemployment, and widespread insecurity faced by women and Dalits continue to be major issues affecting the incumbent government at the State and the UPA at the Centre, but the division of the electorate may throw up some interesting results, which could have a resonance in the Assembly elections later this year.

The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which has always been the principal opposition party in the State, is contesting all 10 seats on its own with a little support from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal campaigned for the INLD candidate at Hisar, a development that did not go down well with the State unit of the BJP. As pointed out by Frontline (“Honour at stake”, April 4), the BJP, which was expected to reap much of the benefits of anti-incumbency factor, may have miscalculated by having an alliance with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), founded by the late Bhajan Lal. In the process, the BJP dumped the INLD, its long-term ally. The BJP is contesting eight seats and the HJC two, Hisar and Sirsa.

Predictably, the understanding of the INLD with the SAD with regard to the Sirsa seat has not gone down well with the BJP. The INLD candidate here is none other than a sitting MLA of the SAD. The Sirsa seat will be one to watch out for as the newly anointed State Congress president, Ashok Tanwar, is pitted in a four-cornered contest there. His main rivals include the candidates of the HJC and the INLD. The HJC candidate is supposed to be a formidable opponent; it is learnt that Tanwar was reluctant to contest from the seat and delayed filing his nomination until the last minute.

Rebellion across the board

The prominent Congress leaders who have either joined the BJP or been made nominees include sitting Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh; Ambala MLA and the right hand man of the Chief Minister, Venod Sharma; two-term Congress MLA and Chief Parliamentary Secretary Dharambir, who is contesting on the BJP ticket from Bhiwani-Mahendargarh against the sitting MP, Shruti Chowdhary; and Sushil Kumar Indora from Sirsa, who is contesting on the HJC ticket. Indora has twice been an INLD MP. He lost in the 2004 elections and later joined the Congress only to leave it again.

At Sonepat, the denial of the ticket to Pradeep Sangwan, son of the late Kishan Singh Sangwan, three-time MP of the BJP, led to a rebellion. In fact, the Congress had given up on this seat when its sitting MP, a confidant of Hooda, declined to contest again, fearing defeat. Pradeep Sangwan decided to join the fray as an independent. Later, on March 25, he joined the Congress and withdrew his candidature. Given the dissension within the BJP’s ranks, the situation seems to favour the Congress nominee. The official BJP candidate here is a former Congressman. In Karnal, too, where the local unit refused to accommodate former Congressman, Venod Sharma, the official BJP nominee, an outsider, is considered weak.

At Rohtak, where the re-election of two-time MP Deepender Singh Hooda of the Congress was being considered an uphill task in what has become a four-cornered contest (the AAP launched its campaign from Rohtak with a huge rally), the open rebellion within the BJP has now made his election rather smooth. In fact, by disregarding the claims of both party spokesperson Captain Abhimanyu and State vice-president Naresh Malik and making Om Prakash Dhankar, national president of the Kisan Morcha, the nominee, a virtual rebellion has broken out within the BJP. State president Ram Bilas Sharma was shown black flags. Similarly, in Bhiwani-Mahendargarh, too, the local BJP unit has expressed open resentment as the official nominee here, Dharambir, was with the Congress until a few weeks ago.

There appears to be no wave favouring any particular person or party at the moment despite the highly personalised nature of national campaigns. Voters do not appear enthused as the opposition is highly fragmented and appears opportunistic as well. The AAP, too, has had its share of rebellion. The general observation about the party has been that it had put up khaas aadmi (special people) as opposed to aam aadmi (ordinary people). There were reports of en masse resignation from the Gurgaon unit of the party a day after AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal’s road show in the region. The lack of an organisational structure is proving to be debilitating for the party even though there appears to be a fair degree of sympathy for Kejriwal. At best, the AAP is expected to ruin the equation in seats where tough contests and narrow margins are expected.

As a political observer said, the AAP started off with the “politics of non-politics”. Therefore, it was not difficult for the party to call on non-governmental organisations, farmer outfits and even khaps to join it. When a section within the AAP criticised the party for the invitation to khaps, the AAP leadership made the invitation conditional, expressing reservations about some of the unlawful pronouncements by the caste councils. This had the effect of khaps turning down the invitation extended at the Rohtak rally. “Khaps are not non-political bodies. They are highly political. This had to boomerang,” commented an academic.

The issues

While on the face of it there appears to be no dearth of issues, barring the Left parties, and the AAP to an extent, no other political outfit has been highlighting them. The Left parties are contesting five of the 10 seats—the CPI(M) three and the CPI two. The Left parties have held rallies in Hisar and Karnal. Several populist sops were announced by the Hooda government but there has been resentment brewing at various levels. The Left parties have promised the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations. The commission, which was set up in 2004 in the first term of the UPA at the insistence of the Left parties, came up with several pro-farmer recommendations, such as returning 50 per cent of the cost of production to the farmers as minimum support price, offering cheap credit to them, and implementing land reforms. Interestingly, the BJP, which remained silent for long, has started talking about implementing the commission’s recommendations.

A large section of the Dalit community that faced sustained violence during Congress rule also feels let down. In fact, Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited the village in Narwana district where a Dalit girl had committed suicide and vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited Mirchpur village where Dalit homes were set ablaze and an elderly man and a disabled girl died. But there were many more incidents that needed the attention and response of the State government. The All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), supported by the CPI(M), pursued several cases, including the gang-rape of a student in Dabra village in Hisar, which led to the arrest of the accused.

The promise of the government to allot 100 square yards (84 square metres) of land to landless families too caused frustration. “Where it was allotted, the registration was not done. Where registration was done, no possession was given. There were cases where land was allotted in areas already owned by private individuals or which were under illegal possession,” a villager pointed out.

There were several decisions of the government pertaining to the recruitment of teachers or to the land acquisition that had been set aside by the courts. There were several protests in the State over the increase in toll tax which raised bus fares, the increase in electricity tariffs, the imposition of development fees and regularisation charges for unauthorised colonies, and the proposed privatisation of Haryana Roadways. For three days in January, employees representing various sectors went on a strike across the State. “There is a feeling that even if the government gave some sops like old-age benefits, it took away much more with other measures,” an employee said.

There is discontentment among the people but there are few alternatives. The manner in which the major political parties are conducting themselves, hoping to blunt the public anger by fielding star speakers and campaigners, is all there to see. Given a highly fragmented polity and a divided opposition, coupled with the absence of a wave in favour of any particular dispensation, no one party is likely to score a clear victory in these elections.


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