Anybody’s game in Jat land

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As the Assembly election in Haryana is scheduled to be held right after the Lok Sabha polls, political activities in the state have gained a feverish momentum. With the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entering the fray, a new angle has been added to an already tangled contest. Turbulence has also hit the internal affairs of the political parties in the state. With the political temperature rising in Haryana, the time is apt for an analysis of the prospects of each party in the state.

Congress
Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress is going to complete a decade as the chief minister of Haryana. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the party had managed to bag nine out of the 10 seats in the state. State leaders of the Congress say they are hopeful of a good performance in the forthcoming election because Om Prakash Chautala, who heads its main rival — the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) — is cooling his heels in jail. Last year, Chautala and his son Ajay were sentenced to 10 years on corruption charges. But this apparent optimism of the leaders is belied by the turmoil within the party during the past eight months.

“In fact, the Congress is in such a bad shape that it is likely to win only the Rohtak seat this time,” says political analyst Naveen S Garewal. Whatever the leaders may say in public, the party is well aware that it is losing ground and is taking last-minute face-saving measures. The post of state Congress president, which had been lying vacant for years, has been given to Sirsa MP Ashok Tanwar, considered to be close to party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. But it is unclear if this hasty decision will benefit the party in the polls.

When Chautala and his son were sent to jail last February, it was believed that the state Congress had no more challenges to face. The BJP, which fights elections in alliance with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), is not considered a strong contender. But today, the Congress is stricken by internal strife and factionalism. Several senior Congress leaders have turned rebellious, including Rajya Sabha members Chaudhary Virendra Singh, Kumari Selja, Ishwar Singh and Faridabad MP Avtar Singh Bhadana. Some allege discrimination, some are aspirants to the post of chief minister, while the others are busy cementing their own positions in state politics. All this has contributed to the trouble brewing for the party. Experts believe that the extent of factionalism is such that it may prove to be enough for ensuring a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. For instance, Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh quit the party and joined the BJP after a longstanding feud with Hooda.

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Adding to the Congress’ troubles is a strong anti-incumbency wave after 10 years in power in the state. Besides, it also has to bear the brunt for the mistakes of the UPA government at the Centre. The party’s prospects have hit an all-time low because of all these factors. “Allegations of corruption, anti-incumbency and internal strife have become a deadly combination and will take the Congress towards a disastrous end,” says political analyst Balwant Takshak.

Though the INLD was considered to be politically dead some time ago, it has recently emerged as a tough competitor for the Congress despite the absence of its top leadership. A few months ago, the INLD released a series of CDs showing Congress leaders, including MLAs, and their family members seeking bribes for permitting changes in land use. In one of the CDs, the state Congress’ chief parliamentary secretary and MLA from Bawani Khera, Ram Kishan Fauji, was allegedly shown seeking a bribe of 5 crore. Allegedly, the CDs also contained evidence against several others asking for money. They included Health Minister Rao Narendra Singh, Hansi MLA Vinod Bhayana, Ratia MLA Jarnail Singh and Barwala MLA Ram Niwas Ghorela. Not only has this put the INLD in a stronger position, but it has also placed hurdles in the Congress’ path to electoral success in the state.

Moreover, the INLD has also gained a strong foothold among the Jat community, which is upset over the sentencing of Chautala. According to analyst Garewal, several labour unions are also protesting against the state government, fomenting further trouble for the ruling Congress party.

Despite being in dire straits, Congress leaders in the state do not seem overtly perturbed by the recent developments. Commenting upon the situation, Haryana Congress spokesperson Karamveer Saini says, “There is a long list of competent leaders in the state Congress. What you call factionalism is a natural urge for power. Every party member wants to be the CM. But there can be only one CM. Those who seem to be at loggerheads today will come together for the elections. No other leader in Haryana matches up to Hooda’s stature. We are not only going to win all the seats in the Lok Sabha election, but also get a majority in the Assembly polls. People like Rao Inderjit Singh are greedy for power. They will soon realise their mistake.”

But party strategists have a slightly different take on the situation. “The opposition faced by the government at the Centre might impact us in the Lok Sabha election,” says a state Congress leader on the condition of anonymity. “But by the time of Assembly election, the public will calm down and come back to us. The Jats in Haryana will not accept a CM from any other community. Since the Chautalas are in jail and no other member of their family comes close to Hooda in stature, the Jats are going to vote for Hooda.”

Experts believe that with Chautala in jail, Hooda is going to cash in on the opportunity since the others in the Chautala clan are relatively new in politics. “The Jats are upset with Hooda for sending Chautala to jail despite belonging to the same community, but they do not have an alternative. In such a situation, the Jat voters can grant Hooda another lifeline,” says Meenakshi Sharma, a political analyst.

Some experts also opine that the Congress might turn to AAP for help. Congress insiders say they are hopeful that AAP’s entry in the contest will benefit their party by eating into the vote share of its rivals. “No doubt, there is anti-incumbency against the Congress, but it may not consolidate into votes for any single party,” says Sharma.

Indian National Lok Dal
With its two heavyweights in jail, the main Opposition party in the state, the INLD, is struggling with the question of who will lead its election campaign. A close analysis of the party’s activities during the past one year suggests that the mantle of leadership is likely to be passed on to Chautala’s other son Abhay and his grandsons Digvijay and Dushyant. However, even Abhay has allegations of corruption against him, while the grandsons are in their mid-20s and are considered to be novices in politics.

In order to improve its prospects, the INLD has even tried forming an alliance with the BJP, but it has not yet worked out. The two parties have been allies for a long time in the past, but today, the BJP does not seem interested in reviving the partnership. The saffron party is in no mood to risk its alliance with the HJC by allying with the INLD. It’s not surprising as the INLD has failed to win even a single Lok Sabha seat in the past 10 years.

“The BJP is reluctant to form an alliance with the INLD, because the latter has earned the tag of being a corrupt party,” says Garewal. “As the campaign against corruption is one of the poll planks of the BJP across the country, it does not want to be associated with a party whose top leaders are in jail due to corruption charges.”

Bereft of allies, the party is bravely fielding candidates in all 10 Lok Sabha constituencies in Haryana. In informal chats, several INLD leaders have admitted that without an alliance, the party has little chance of winning a Lok Sabha seat. However, in case the party somehow manages to bag two or three seats, the BJP will be forced to join hands with it for the Assembly election. “In fact, a BJP-INLD alliance seems quite likely after the Lok Sabha polls,” says Takshak. INLD leaders have repeatedly voiced their admiration of Narendra Modi and offered support to the BJP. It will be interesting to see how long the BJP will resist this token of love.

In fact, INLD leaders seem to be looking forward to the Assembly election. Insiders believe that even if their top leaders are unable to come out of jail for the election, the party will benefit from the wave of anti-incumbency against the Congress government. They are hopeful of mobilising people to vote for them out of sympathy for their jailed leaders. “The people know that the Congress has framed Om Prakash and Ajay Chautala,” says Dushyant Chautala. “In the Assembly election, they will teach the Congress a lesson. I have travelled across the state and seen the phenomenal support for us.”

BJP-HJC Alliance
The HJC is led by Kuldeep Bishnoi, the MP from Hisar in the current Lok Sabha. Its prospects are closely linked with that of the BJP. The HJC will be contesting in two of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, while the BJP will field its candidates in the other eight seats.

Like the INLD, the HJC too is focussing more on the Assembly election. With the Congress facing anti-incumbency and top INLD leaders in jail, the party is confident of doing well in the polls. BJP leaders are also expecting that the Modi factor will appeal to voters in Haryana and help it win at least five Lok Sabha seats in the state.

But does such a possibility really exist? In the last Lok Sabha election, the Congress had won from all the eight seats that the BJP is eyeing. To counter anti-incumbency, the Congress is trying to replace old faces with new ones.

Many political observers are doubtful whether a BJP-HJC alliance is going to benefit either party. They argue that because support for both the parties comes from the same section of voters — businessmen and the middle class — there isn’t much to be gained from an alliance between the two. Bishnoi’s political influence is limited to Hisar. “Kuldeep has not yet reached the stature of a state leader,” says Garewal. “It will be interesting to see what he will do for the BJP and for his own party. But yes, if Modi does become the prime minister, it could change the political landscape of the state. And if somehow the INLD, too, manages to join the BJP-HJC alliance, Haryana politics will see a major upheaval.”

Aam Aadmi Party
AAP is the latest entrant in Haryana’s political sphere with Yogendra Yadav as the party’s face in the state. Though Yadav is contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Gurgaon, he is also being projected as the party’s CM candidate in the Assembly election. The senior AAP leader appears to be in a strong position to challenge Rao Inderjit Singh, the BJP candidate in Gurgaon. In Faridabad, too, AAP is likely to emerge as a powerful alternative.

But the party’s influence is still confined to the urban areas. “Although even villagers are discussing AAP, there is little chance that they will vote for the party in large numbers,” says Takshak.

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AAP will find it extremely tough to make inroads into the caste-based politics in Haryana’s villages. “It cannot win over the Jats,” says Sharma. “So, its impact will be confined to the youth, who are fed up with corruption and the older parties.”

According to Prem Kumar, professor of sociology in Kurukshetra University, AAP will not be able to sway voters in the largely rural electorate of Haryana. Even though the party is trying to reach out to the rural voters, its political slogans are unlikely to appeal to them. Activists of the party are meeting Khap leaders on a regular basis, but it is unlikely to result in a surge of votes for the party.

More than AAP’s prospects in the Lok Sabha polls, political observers are more curious about how the party will perform in the Assembly election. There is speculation that the polls might result in a hung Assembly. If the party manages to bag 12- 13 of the 90 Assembly seats, it could play a decisive role in the formation of the next state government.

In Haryana, every party seems to have an equal chance of winning or losing. “In the absence of any overwhelming wave, the election results will completely depend on the ability of individual candidates to garner votes,” says Kumar.

Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman

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