The recent drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, a spate of desertions and ongoing bickering in the party has the Congress in Haryana readying up for the assembly polls with its back to the wall.
The Congress, which won nine out of 10 seats in the 2004 and 2009 general elections, could only manage to retain Rohtak Lok Sabha seat in 2014 polls from where Deepender Singh Hooda, son of Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, won by over 1.5 lakh votes. It also suffered serious reverses in Kurukshetra, Hisar, Gurgaon and Bhiwani-Mahendergarh seats where party candidates finished a poor third.
With a strong anti-incumbency sentiment of over nine years of rule proving a major stumbling block in its electoral endeavours for the upcoming assembly polls, the Congress, despite doling out a string of poll-centric sops, is finding it difficult to find its bearings.
The emergence of the BJP at the state level has serious implications for the ruling Congress — the switchover of stalwarts like Jat leader Birender Singh, Ahir leader Rao Inderjit Singh and several minions in the saffron party fold has damaged the party’s standing and prospects.
The bitter infighting arising from allegations of regional bias in development and jobs refuses to come to an end even in an adverse situation.
Two-time chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda who is showing an indefatigable spirit by announcing poll-centric pacifiers for employees, farmers, youngsters and the elders seems to be fighting a lone battle. He has a reason to be despondent as his close associates like Venod Sharma and Dharambir Singh deserted him in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.
Hooda, however, can take solace from the fact that he is still regarded as an undisputed leader in the Deswali Jat belt of the state — Rohtak, Sonepat and Jhajjar.
The Congress, which won 40 assembly seats in the 2009 assembly elections, led in 15 assembly segments in the 10 Lok Sabha seats it contested. However, 10 assembly segments from where the Congress secured leads were interspersed in the Deswali belt. The party led in seven assembly segments falling in Rohtak parliamentary constituency and three in Sonepat parliamentary constituency, lending credence to Hooda’s influence.
As far as other parts of the state were concerned, the Congress could only secure leads in two each assembly segments of Bhiwani-Mahendergarh Lok Sabha seat (Tosham and Loharu) and Kurukshetra LS seat (Pehowa and Guhla). In Sirsa LS seat, the Congress could secure lead from Tohana assembly segment. Compared to the 2014 showing, the party had led in 59 assembly segments in 2009 general elections. In fact one of the reasons why the Congress was able to touch the 40-seat mark during the 2009 assembly elections was its impressive performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The recent breaking up of poll alliance between the BJP and Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) has come as a slight comfort for the Congress. Party leaders believe that in a multi-cornered contest, the Congress stands a better chance of performing well. “The break up will hamper the consolidation of non-Jats,” said a party insider.
The Congress, which seems to have made substantial gains into the Jat vote bank post 2005 primarily due to Hooda’s ascendancy and approach banks heavily on it. Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which, too, has a solid presence among the Jat voters is passing through its worst crisis following the sentencing of Chautala and his son Ajay Singh Chautala in the Junior Basic Teachers (JBT) recruitment scam.
In the absence of Chautalas and with the INLD not being able to forge an alliance with the BJP, the Congress is relying on the support of Jats in a big way. But then Jats have often showed a tendency to waver and consolidate behind the favourite, a recent example being the poll result of Hisar Lok Sabha seat where INLD candidate, Dushyant Chautala emerged winner due to sheer polarisation of Jat votes in three assembly segments.
Fresh round of sops
Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who recently kicked off a fresh round of poll-centric sops — providing government employees, including cops, pay-scales on the Punjab pattern with effect from November 1, 2014, waiving loans of Rs 154 crore taken by 1.25 lakh SC-BC beneficiaries, relief for farmers as they be exempted from paying interest on crop loans provided they pay principal amount on time, a fresh hike in old-age pension from Rs 1,000 per month to Rs 1,500 per month.
Before the Lok Sabha polls, the chief minister had ordered reduction in the power tariff, increased monthly social security pensions, announced interim financial relief of Rs 2,000 per month to Class 3 and 4 employees and risk allowance of Rs 5,000 per month to cops, etc.
Tomorrow: Indian National Lok Dal