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Haryana LS polls: Congress grip slackens on Jat stronghold

Hitender Rao, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, February 27, 2014
First Published: 23:33 IST(27/2/2014) | Last Updated: 01:29 IST(28/2/2014)

Four years ago, as the results of the Lok Sabha polls started pouring in, Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was all smiles. The Congress had repeated its 2004 tally of 9 seats, losing just one to rebel Bhajan Lal. But that smile would be hard to come by this time.

Bitter infighting and anti-incumbency has left the party in complete disarray – a sorry state of affairs especially in view of the assembly elections that are to be held before October. The silver lining is that the opposition parties are not better off — except perhaps, the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The main opposition party — the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) —is battling heavy odds with the incarceration of its charismatic leader, Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala. Both were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment last year in the junior basic teachers’ recruitment scam.

The rudder is now in the hands of Chautala’s younger son Abhay —better known for his misadventures in the Indian Olympic Association.

A possible tie-up with the BJP, despite the INLD expressing its unequivocal support for BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, has failed to materialise. For the rural-centric party, the urban-centric BJP would have been a natural ally. And had the deal been struck, the two parties could have outmanoeuvred the other players.

The INLD is now in a tricky situation. In the absence of an alliance offer from the BJP, it has to put up candidates in all 10 seats, in effect blocking any further possibilities of collaboration.

But the BJP had its own demons to fight. Lacking a charismatic leadership in Haryana, the party has lately gone for an electoral tie-up with Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), another urban-centric party like itself.

The state leadership is keeping its fingers crossed — murmurs of disagreement have already started over seat sharing at meetings of top leaders of the two allies. Under a predetermined arrangement, the BJP will contest 8 seats and HJC just 2. But there is still no consensus over the 2 seats the HJC would be allotted by the saffron party. While the HJC wants Hisar and Karnal, the BJP leadership is insisting on giving Hisar and Bhiwani-Mahendergarh, say BJP sources.

The only thing expected to work in the BJP’s favour now is the Modi wave — but capitalising on it would need some deft steering.

The pitch has been further queered this time by the presence of AAP, for whom Haryana is the virtual backyard, owing to its proximity to the national capital and Arvind Kerjiwal’s and Yogendra Yadav’s link with the state.

But for the party, which rode to a superlative performance in the Delhi assembly elections, Haryana may not be a cakewalk. Powered by the social media, AAP is essentially urban-based and would face an uphill task capturing the rural votes. It may perform better in urban centres, particularly those in the national capital region (NCR).

As for the Congress, the party is likely to be the worst-hit in this four-cornered fight.

The party, which was on a sop-disbursal spree since November 2013, initially appeared tempted to dissolve the assembly early and go in for simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls. But Hooda has decided against taking the gamble in view of the party’s weakened position.

His style of functioning has already been bitterly criticised by Rajya Sabha MPs Kumari Selja and Birender Singh. Rao Inderjit Singh, an old Congress leader who recently quit the party to join the BJP, was also less than charitable.

Plus, there is speculation about certain Congress leaders, including one-time Hooda confidant and Sohna MLA Dharambir Singh, of deserting the party. Dharambir, an arch rival of minister Kiran Choudhry was forced to contest from the Sohna assembly seat in 2009. But now he wants to switch back to his home turf of Bhiwani and contest the Bhiwani-Mahendergarh Lok Sabha seat.

The Congress will have to fight hard to retain its turf.

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