Two Sikhs are fighting over the issue of the Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (HSGMC) in the ancient town of Pehowa. Son of finance minister Harmohinder Singh Chattha, Mandeep Chattha, the Congress candidate from Pehowa assembly segment, who is in favour of a separate gurdwara panel for Haryana, is locked in a close contest with three-time MLA and former minister Jaswinder Sandhu of the Indian National Lok Dal who is against the HSGMC.
Harmohinder Singh Chattha, who has been MLA for two consecutive terms from Pehowa and biggest advocate of the HSGMC, has got ticket for his son Mandeep this time. “It was a sentimental issue. Lakhs of Haryana Sikhs are in favour of a separate gurdwara management committee. Our government has fulfilled its promise,” justifies Mandeep.
Sandhu, however, said, “We are in favour of a sub-committee under Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee and Akal Takht and not a government-driven committee.”
Mandeep is little late in arriving on scene while Sandhu has been campaigning for over two months now. “There are villages
where I have visited a number of times,” claims Sandhu.
Dressed in informals and sports shoes with a white stole around his neck, Mandeep starts his day at 5am. His campaign is meticulously planned with manto-man marking. His sportsutility vehicle (SUV) Montero is handy in negotiating dusty lanes of Pehowa as there are areas where, if you go in car, you carry a small dust storm with you. His workers keep in touch with him on phone and organise street meetings.
Till 10pm, he remains busy in campaigning and after that strategy for the next day is planned. He makes it a point to greet and shake hands with as many as people he can. “Only in the election season you get to know who are upset with you. I try to make up with them,” he said.
About his father, Mandeep said he had been campaigning separately in other parts of the constituency. He reminds people of “goondagardi” of the INLD and development done by the Congress government in the last 10 years. The schools, which have been upgraded to Class 12 and a link road network laid in the last 10 years is on his fingertips.
Fighting to keep his father’s legacy alive, Mandeep tells his supporters, “Do not let my father taunt me that I got less number of votes than him.”
At Nessi village, while taking to HT, he said, “I am not making any promises but asking people to let us continue our good work.”
On whom he feels a close contestant, he said, “There is no contest. It is a one-sided affair. Even during the Modi wave in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won from Pehowa.” The Congress had got 45,491 votes, while the INLD was close second with 45,044 votes in the Lok Sabha polls.
Sandhu starts his day at 4.30am. Dressed in a white kurtapyjama and sporting a green turban, he meets workers and strategises for the day till 7am. After that political meetings start. He carries a list of party workers with their phone numbers. He prefers Innova and a Scorpio with speakers on their rooftops, playing the party anthem.
His sons, younger brother and a nephew are helping him in campaigning. The meetings continue till midnight. Rather than addressing meetings place to place, Sandhu is focussing on attracting workers from other parties. “I am yet to visit my party workers’ home. I am too busy attending those who have come to us from other parties.”
He is banking on issues of unemployment, corruption and lack of development in the constituency. Pitching to make jailed leader Om Prakash Chautala as next chief minister, Sandhu tells voters at a Jat-dominated Hisak village, “Om Prakash Chautala has been jailed due to conspiracy of (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi and (chief minister) Bhupinder Singh Hooda. People are angry and they will defeat the Congress. The BJP is also working against Chautala. You see, the judge is not disposing off the case.”
When asked whether Chautala is coming to support him, he said they had planned the par ty chief ’ s rally in Kurukshetra on October 7 but time and venue is yet to be decided. “We will show who gathers maximum crowd — Modi or Chautala,” he said.
Both Mandeep and Sandhu violated the election code of conduct during their respective poll campaigns on Friday. While Mandeep sought votes in a meeting organised at a temple at Nessi village, Sandhu gave money to a woman in Karaha village. “She is widow of a part worker and she is poor,” Sandhu justified his action.