Haryana assembly polls: Youth versus maturity in new battle of Panipat | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Haryana assembly polls: Youth versus maturity in new battle of Panipat

The people who migrated from the western Punjab region of Hyderabad-Multan during Partition in 1947 ‎gave Panipat its identity of handloom city. Since then, it has a heavy concentration of Punjabis and, except in 1996, the Panipat (urban) assembly constituency has belonged to them.

chandigarh Updated: Oct 04, 2014 08:17 IST
Saurabh Duggal

The people who migrated from the western Punjab region of Hyderabad-Multan during Partition in 1947 ‎gave Panipat its identity of handloom city. Since then, it has a heavy concentration of Punjabis and, except in 1996, the Panipat (urban) assembly constituency has belonged to them.

The ones from undivided India’s Hyderabad ‎province, still referred to as Hyderabadi Punjabis, used their craftsmanship to establish the handloom industry and enter yarn business. Banking on this biggest chunk of Punjabi voters (20,000 of 70,000), Bharatiya Janata Party nominee Rohita Rewari, wife of Panipat yarn association president Surinder, is challenging the might of the famous Shah family of the city.

The Shahs, too, are Punjabi migrants from Nankana village, birthplace of Guru Nanak Dev. They have been prominent in the Panipat elections for decades. It started with Hakumat Rai Shah, who had the biggest land in the area. He became municipal council chairman and then legislator in 1972 before reins came into the hands of his elder son, Balbir Pal Shah, who won the state assembly elections five times.

Except 1996 (when Om Prakash Jain won), Balbir Pal Shah has won all elections since his debut in 1987. After the sitting legislator decided to quit active politics at 70, the political baton has passed on to his younger brother, Virender Shah, nicknamed Bulle Shah after the legendary Punjabi Sufi poet born in the 17th century.

From motherhood to political arena

It’s from motherhood to political arena for rookie challenger Rohita Rewari (34) of the BJP. “Adulterated water and the lack of development are the main issue that have turned the people of Panipat away from the Congress and towards the BJP,” she said. Her husband and she joined the saffron party three years ago.

Being a new entrant in the political arena, task of taking on a seasoned political family may look daunting but she is not unnerved. “I am just three years into ‎politics but this is not my first election. I won the councillor’s seat by 8,500 votes of the 13,000 polled. People have seen my performance in the municipal corporation and they will reward me for that in the assembly elections,” said the mother of two, who is able to take out time for her children from a hectic schedule.

"Around noon, when I come home for a while, my younger son (8) is at the door, asking for a hug. The family time refreshes ‎me to be at work till late evening,” said Rohita. For the penetration into other vote banks, the ‎BJP candidate banks on the Modi factor. “Since we are Hyderabadi ‎Punjabis, our family has links with many communities. Even in the parliamentary elections, the BJP got more votes that the Congress,” said the nominee.

From war room to battle field

Though Virender ‘Bulle’ Shah, 60, contests for the first time, for years he has represented his brother ‎in the constituency by managing his elections. “People know me well. I have been ‎raised here with them. Their bonding with the Shah family is decades old,” said the Congress candidate. “After my father and elder brother, I became the transport union president. I quit in 1992 but my name is still there in the books. The transport union does a lot of business here, involving hundreds of crores of rupees a year, and people trust me so much that even after I resigned, the transport union does no transaction without my signature,” he added.

Addressing the business community at Pachranga Bazar, the confidence of Shah‎ is visible. “You have seen us for 25 years, and it’s up to you to decide whom you want to deal with for the next five,” said ‘Bulle’ Shah. On the issue of anti-incumbency and area being ignored at the cost of developing other realms, he said: “It is not for the first time that the chief minister’s constituency has got prominence in development. Earlier, the focus has been on Bhiwani, Hisar and Sirsa. Panipat has seen development indeed, and a water-treatment project worth `700 crore has been sanctioned for the city recently.”

Attacking mode

Apart from her family background, Rohita hopes to cash on her appeal among women and the youth. She also wants to exploit “Shah’s inaccessibility”. “People want change,” said Rohita.
For ‘Bulle Shah’, the youth factor goes against Rohita. “Taking up public issues at the highest level requires maturity and experience, and people know who is mature and experienced to represent their causes,” said the Congress nominee.

Constituency: Panipat (urban)

Main players

Congress: Virender ‘Bulle’ Shah
BJP: Rohita Rewari

Total voters: 2.03 lakh

Caste combination
Punjabi 70,000
Brahmin 20,000
Baniya 18,000
Jat 12,000
Muslim 10,000