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Congress has the edge in Haryana

Haryana seems all set to return the Congress to power. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has strengthened his party even in areas where it has never won earlier, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2009 00:01 IST
Pankaj Vohra

In a state, which gave Indian politics the words ‘aya ram gaya ram’ to symbolise easy defections in the 70s and the 80s, a multi-cornered fight could throw up many surprises on October 22.

Haryana seems all set to return the Congress to power. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda could rewrite history by becoming the first leader in 30 years to help his party retain the government after virtually a full-term.

Hooda has strengthened his party even in areas where it has never won earlier. But, there is still an element of uncertainty. The state may have simple people, but they have pride and big egos. If that gets hurt, they might just ignore all the good work.

In the last Assembly polls (2005), nearly everyone agreed that Om Prakash Chautala as the Chief Minister had done a good job but the electorate thought otherwise. In some places, the main grouse against him was ‘his arrogance and the coarse behaviour of his sons’.

Chautala not only lost from one seat to young Randeep Surjewala, but his party managed to win only nine seats, one short of the number required to make him the official leader of the Opposition. The Congress was victorious in most Jat-dominated areas, thereby, ending Bhajan Lal’s hopes of becoming the next chief minister. The overwhelming Jat support ensured that Hooda — who had on three occasions beaten Haryana’s Tau, the late Ch. Devi Lal in the Lok Sabha polls from Rohtak — was elected as CM.

This time Hooda is lucky that the opposition is fragmented. There is satisfaction that the party had won nine out of ten seats in the May Parliament elections and main rival Chautala has drawn a blank in the two consecutive Lok Sabha polls of 2004 and 2009.

He would have been better placed if polls were held on schedule in 2010, as many incomplete projects would have gone on stream by then. There is always a risk of going to the polls earlier and the example of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which advanced the parliamentary polls in 2004 by some months is an example. The gamble boomeranged.

The Assembly elections are unique this time. The BJP, which earlier used to contest along with Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party or Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal, is now without an ally. It may find the going really tough. Bhajan Lal’s outfit, the Haryana Jan Hit Party, has chosen candidates keeping caste considerations in mind.

Bhajan Lal appears to have forged a secret understanding with Chautala in order to give a tough fight to Congress nominees. This time he wants to establish his younger son, Kuldeep Bishnoi in state politics. Chautala is hoping to regain some of the lost Jat seats in his erstwhile bastions. He is pitted against another well- known Jat leader, Birendra Singh, grandson of late Sir Chottu Ram from Ucchana.

The seemingly sound Congress position is because even in its worst days, the party has never polled less than 28 per cent of the total vote. Second, Hooda has grown in stature in the last four-and-half years and is considered close to the party high command.

Third, his rivals within the party are considerably weakened and some of them may find it difficult to win in the Assembly polls without him.

His biggest problem this year is the high prices of essential commodities. The polls are being held during the festive season and everyone is likely to feel the pinch. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is backing Hooda to once again deliver the state to the party. Between us.