Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has done it twice. Y S Rajasekhara Reddy did it in Andhra Pradesh just five months ago. Now, the Congress is trying to retain power in Haryana.
Upbeat after winning nine of 10 Lok Sabha seats this year, the party, led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda (62), has taken a calculated gamble of going for assembly elections five months before its five-year term ends. But it will have to fight more than just opposition parties in the Jat heartland.
The Congress will also be fighting history.
No party has retained power in Haryana in more than three decades after completing a full five-year term. The electorate has thrown out every incumbent regime in the state since 1977. The last time that a government retained power was in 1972.
The party was Congress and the chief minister Bansi Lal.
“The Congress will break this jinx. We will retain power on the strength of our performance, development initiatives and welfare schemes,” said Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee president Phool Chand Mullana.
To back their confidence, party strategists cite the 41 per cent vote share that the Congress garnered in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress’s success exceeded even its own expectations. But the party was helped by the lack of anti-incumbency, the disarray in the opposition and the slew of freebies that the government announced. It is hoping for an encore.
The opposition continues to be divided with broken alliances making the election a five –cornered contest. The Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the principal opposition party for long, is going through a rough patch. It hasn’t won a single election – two LS polls in 2004 and 2009, assembly election in 2005 and the by-elections to three assembly seats last year – in the last six years.
While the INLD has almost always done well in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the past, the partnership did not work this year.
The two broke up after their dismal showing in the parliamentary polls in which they polled close to 29 per cent votes. The combative veteran may be down but nobody is counting Chautala, 74, out just yet.
A tireless campaigner, he is working doubly hard to regain his support base in the rural belt, especially among the Jats, where Hooda has made inroads in recent years.
Chautala's party has fielded 30 candidates from the Jat community alone. “The assembly elections are different. The other parties will dent the Congress. We will improve our vote share. The five-multi-cornered contest will work to our advantage,” insists the former chief minister.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Haryana Janhit Congress (Bansi Lal) [HJC (BL] had also forged an alliance to capitalise on their sway among the Dalits and the other non-Jat communities, respectively.
However, it fell apart within a few days owing to differences among their top leaders. They are now contesting all seats independently. The BSP is counting on Mayawati’s vote-catching abilities whereas the HJC (BL) is struggling to stay afloat.
The spectre of rebels has got the Congress worried. Disgruntled leaders, who were aspiring for the party ticket, have entered the fray in more than a dozen assembly constituencies after being denied one.
A few of them have the backing of senior leaders. Though the INLD, HJC (BL) and the BSP have their share of problems on this front, the Congress is the worst hit as there was a mad scramble for its ticket after its Lok Sabha success.
The party had received more than 5,000 applications.
“They have been encouraged by the party’s policy of rewarding rebels. Hooda pampered those who had rebelled against the party and won as Independents in 2005. They’ve been rewarded with the party ticket this time,” says Congress leader and ex-MLA Pratap Chautala, whose son Ravi is contesting from Dabwali in Sirsa district (240 km west of Chandigarh) as a Congress rebel. The opposition is hoping to gain from the internal bickering in the Congress.