The relative significance of March 5 for Haryana went largely unnoticed this year, apparently lost in the din of the approaching general elections.
But despite it being the day that chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda completed nine years of continuous reign in the state, even the Congress did not shout it out. Grappling with a strong anti-incumbency current, factionalism and bitter infighting, the ruling Congress in Haryana looks beleaguered ahead of a tough Lok Sabha battle.
Hooda’s second innings as chief minister had its genesis in the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. With the Congress unexpectedly repeating its 2004 tally of nine out of 10 in the last LS polls, an emboldened Hooda went for early assembly polls, five months ahead of the scheduled date. An early dissolution of Haryana assembly may happen again in 2014; but for an altogether different reason.
Illustration: Daljeet Kaur Sandhu/HT
DesertionsExit of three prominent Congress leaders – Rao Inderjit Singh, Venod Shar ma and Dharambir Singh — from the party fold in the past couple of weeks suggests the shape of things to come. Though Rao Inderjit’s exit was on the cards for the past six months after his public outbursts against Hooda and the Congress central leadership, the abrupt manner in which Hooda’s chum Venod Sharma and close confidante Dharambir Singh have dumped him clearly indicates the grim prospects for the Congress. The Congress faces a stiff challenge in at least seven constituencies. It banks heavily on the CM’s home turf of Rohtak and adjoining Jat-dominant seat of Sonepat to avoid the ignominy of a complete washout.
The public mood seems to have been gauged by the party stalwarts as many seem reluctant to contest. Kumari Selja, who was elected from Ambala in 2004 and 2009, has been shielded by the high command from the antiincumbency heat by giving her safe passage to the Rajya Sabha.
Delay in announcing candidates for the Scheduled Castesreserved constituencies Sirsa and Ambala seats has a lot to do with ambivalence in the mind of high command as well as the contenders.
he newly appointed state Congress chief, Ashok Tanwar, who won the Sirsa seat in 2009, was initially keen to shift to Ambala after Selja left for the Upper House. However, he has now got the ticket from Sirsa.
For Gurgaon, where Rao Inderjit is now contesting on a BJP ticket, the party wanted to field state power minister Capt Ajay Singh Yadav, but he cited health concerns for his unwillingness. The party had no option but to field Badshahpur MLA Rao Dharampal, who is being considered a weak candidate.
In what can, however, be termed a bright spot for the Congress, the much-anticipated poll pact between the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the BJP has failed to materialise, leaving the two frontrunner opposition parties to fight their own battles.
The BJP remains with for mer Congressman Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress (Bhajan Lal), or HJC. “The INLD-BJP alliance would have posed a formidable challenge to us,” admitted a Congress leader. Also, the BJP’s alliance with the HJC is not considered a natural coalition considering the fact that both the parties are urban-centric.
The INLD is battling odds also due to the incarceration of its charismatic leader Om Prakash Chautala and his elder son Ajay Singh Chautala — both convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment last year in a scam in recruitment of junior basic teachers (JBT). The INLD’s prospects rest on the skills of OP Chautala’s younger son Abhey.
Further, the INLD faces another political dilemma. While it has unequivocally expressed support for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who has been projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the party has put up candidates at all 10 Lok Sabha seats, thus opposing the BJP nominees.
To bolster the Congress prospects in such a scenario, CM Hooda has been on a sop disbursal spree since November last. Reduction in the power tariff, increase in the monthly social security pensions, interim relief of Rs 2,000 per month to class-3 and -4 employees and risk allowance of Rs 5,000 per month to cops, announcement to set up a sports university in late CM Bansi Lal’s name in Bhiwani and two new medical colleges too, a law university in the name of Dr BR Ambedkar in Sonepat, extending the cut-off date for regularisation of unauthorised colonies; decision to regularise services of daily-wage and contractual employees with three years of regular service; autorickshaw owners given the facility of paying one-time road tax and passenger tax; and one-time rebate of 30% for those who clear all their property tax dues up to 2012-13 by March 31, 2014, are some of the announcements.