It is through a long chain of his associates that industrialist-turned-Congress parliamentarian Naveen Jindal registers his presence in his constituency. The parliamentary segment covers Kurukshetra district and large chunks of the adjoining districts of Yamunanagar and Kaithal.
The billionaire MP has a social organisation, OP Jindal Gramin Jan Kalyan Sansthan, raised in his late father’s memory, that works in the fields of women and child development, women and youth empowerment, health and sanitation, infrastructure development and rural livelihood.
He played a key role in getting clearance for the National Institute of Design (NID) at Umri, Kurukshetra, the second campus of the prestigious institute in the country (the other one is in Ahmedabad). Jindal also claims to have been instrumental in establishing government colleges in Kaithal and Pehowa.
A common grouse against Jindal is that he is inaccessible to the public. Dr Rajbir Parashar, an assistant professor at a private college in Kaithal and an activist, rues that the MP has emerged as a conventional politician.
“It was expected from a highly educated person like him to evolve a progressive model for his constituency. But he has no direct connect with the people and is available only to the coterie of his close aides,” says Parashar.
Jaivir Turan from Pundri says a direct Kaithal-Delhi train link has been a long-pending demand, but nothing has been done in this regard. “When an announcement about the project was made in the rail budget, Jindal and Haryana PWD minister Randeep Singh Surjewala started claiming credit for its approval. But there is no train on the ground, which shows that no politician has taken sincere interest in it,” he adds.
Punit Thakkar, a Kurukshetra University student, says that Jindal was regarded as a politician with a progressive approach towards the youth, “but there is no project in the area that could create job opportunities for the unemployed.”
The urban electorate alleges that they have to depend on the MP’s political aides as their elected representative is not even available on the phone.
The BJP’s district president, Dhumman Singh Kirmach, accuses Jindal of ignoring the ‘tirtha’ (places of pilgrimage) of Kurukshetra during his two stints as MP.
“Information obtained under the Right To Information (RTI) reveals that Jindal did not give any money to the Kurukshetra Development Board (KDB), the official, autonomous body having the mandate to maintain and promote the ‘42-kos’ area of Kurukshetra as per tradition,” said Kirmach.
He said the Gita Jayanti celebrations which, during the NDA regime had acquired a national flavour, were now reduced to a city-level mela as Jindal had made no effort to promote the cultural heritage of the area.
Far from tight-fisted
The villages where money from the MP’s local area development (MPLAD) fund and his private funds was invested in public works are not complaining much about Jindal’s limited accessibility.
Baldev Singh of Chausala village, part of the Kalayat assembly segment in Kaithal district, said Jindal had spent Rs. 1.75 crore from his own pocket to establish an electronic health centre to ensure quality medical care through telemedicine. “The facility is proving beneficial for residents of Kalayat, a backward area of the state,” says Baldev.
A group of youths near Jhansa village said they were impressed by Jindal’s work culture. “Rural youths are given sports kits free of cost. Students from poor families are getting free books from his NGO,” they said.
Jindal claims, “I have not only fully disbursed the MPLAD fund but also spent my own money on social welfare. As an MP, I get salary from the state exchequer, but ever since my first term in Parliament began in 2004, the entire salary has gone towards public welfare works.”
He is credited with bringing central funds for rural development in his constituency, but his rivals claim that the MP has failed to bring any major employment-generating industry or project to Kurukshetra.
His image took a hit after he was named as one of the ‘beneficiaries’ in the coal block allocation scam. Last year, he made the headlines after his close aide conducted a sting operation on a major private news channel. He is also targeted by his political opponents for being an “outsider” (Jindal’s native place is Hisar).
In what’s seen as an image-building move ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, he has reportedly invested in a Hindi news channel, where he occupies the central place.
Part 5 of 34:
Virender Kashyap, Shimla