A three-cornered puzzle

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Forward march BJP workers take out a procession in Karnal on the eve of Modi’s 5 October rally, Photo: Ram Kumar
Forward march BJP workers take out a procession in Karnal on the eve of Modi’s 5 October rally. Photo: Ram Kumar

On 4 October, BJP workers spent a sleepless night at the party’s election office in Haryana’s Karnal city. Just back from a night procession, they had chosen to stay over at the party office. The next morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was going to launch his campaign for the upcoming Assembly election in the state. The party workers did not wish to miss out on the opportunity to welcome him.

key_contests“Unlike other political leaders, Modi is very particular about punctuality. So, we decided it was better to stay back in the party office and go to venue of the rally straight from here,” said a party worker even as one of Modi’s famous 3D speeches, heard across the country during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, was being played on an lcd screen just outside the office premises. There were no posters or banners featuring the local BJP candidate in the procession that was carried out earlier; it was all about Modi.

This wasn’t surprising as it was mainly by riding the Modi wave that the BJP — until then a fringe force in the state — had bagged seven of the eight seats it had contested in the General Election earlier this year.

However, on the morning of 5 October, as the prime minister arrived at the HUDA ground to address the masses, the million-dollar question on everyone’s mind was whether the “Modi magic” would work once again in Haryana. Following the BJP’s poor performance in the recent bypolls in several states, the party has been under tremendous pressure to disprove its rivals’ prognosis that the Modi wave is over. So, the party has a lot at stake in the 15 October Assembly polls in both Haryana and Maharashtra.

Haryana is especially crucial for the party due to its geographical and political proximity to the national capital and also because Modi has projected the state as his “second home”.

When Modi left the city after delivering a 30-minute speech, a group of local BJP leaders assembled to assess the rally and its impact on the local voters. A senior leader was furious that the person who was entrusted to give local inputs to augment Modi’s speech did not mention the local development projects. “The state leaders did mention the projects in their speeches, but the impact would have been far greater had it come from the prime minister’s mouth. Modi should have spoken about more local issues,” he complained. The others nodded in agreement.

The sense one got from the discussion was that while it’s not clear if the Modi factor is still active in Haryana, local issues are doubtlessly weighing large in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

Every party in the fray is taking the forthcoming Assembly election to be crucial in determining its political prospects in the coming days. For the BJP, it is important to prove that the party’s thumping victory in the Lok Sabha polls was not a one-time phenomenon. It also wants to show that the people are convinced of the Modi government being on the right track and delivering on its promises.

The Congress, on the other hand, sees Haryana as one of its strongholds. The grand old party has been in power in the state for two consecutive terms under Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. This election is crucial for the party to reclaim its status in contemporary Indian politics after its debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. If it is thrown out of power in Haryana, that would be seen as a rejection by the electorate of the party’s first family as this is the state where the alleged land scams associated with Robert Vadra, son-in-law of party president Sonia Gandhi, took place.

key_contests2The main Opposition party in the Haryana Assembly, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), also sees this election as a ‘do-or-die situation’ as it is the first Assembly election after party chief and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Singh Chautala were convicted in a teachers recruitment scam. Om Prakash Chautala is now out on bail on medical grounds and is actively campaigning in the state. He has announced that he would take oath as the chief minister from Tihar jail.

The newly-formed Haryana Jan Chetna Party, comprising a faction under Venod Sharma that parted ways with the Congress, and the Haryana Lokhit Party, led by former minister Gopal Kanda, who is accused of abetting the suicide of a former air hostess, also see this election as crucial for their political survival. The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) led by Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, also wants to regain lost ground after Bishnoi’s defeat in the Lok Sabha polls and the party’s break-up with the BJP in August.

All the parties are fighting to rule a state that is full of paradoxes. Though Haryana is an industrial hub, especially for information technology and manufacturing industries, it is still plagued by unemployment. It produces many of India’s successful sports personalities and is called the country’s “medal factory”, but has India’s worst sex ratio — 879 girls to 1,000 boys. The state has the largest number of rural millionaires in the country, but its villages are also notorious for khap panchayats and violence against women and the lower castes.

Journalist Pawan Kumar Bansal, who has authored three books on Haryana, notes in his recent book Gustakhi Maaf: Haryana that the state’s politics is dependent more on factors such as defection, casteism, floor-crossing and nepotism than the ideology or idealism of political parties. And, this has been evident in this election too, from the ticket distribution level itself. All the parties in the fray have generously given tickets to tainted people, turncoats and the kith and kin of their leaders.

The BJP has only four seats in the 90-member state Assembly, while the Congress has 40, the INLD 31, and the HJC, seven. The saffron party had won two seats in the 2005 Assembly election and six in 2000. However, its performance in the Lok Sabha election has made the party quite confident of doing well in the upcoming polls. Though the party usually projects a cm candidate before Assembly polls in states where it aspires to form the government, it has not done so in Haryana. It has also not forged any pre-poll alliance in the state. Sitting at his office in Karnal after Modi’s rally, the party’s Haryana spokesperson Jagmohan Anand told TEHELKA that the BJP would form the government “on its own”. And why does he think so? “The Modi wave is the biggest positive factor for us,” he says.

The key players Modi at the Karnal rally, Photo: Ram Kumar
The key players Modi at the Karnal rally. Photo: Ram Kumar

The Congress, which got a vote share of 42 percent and 35 percent in the 2005 and 2009 Assembly elections, respectively, claims that a number of development projects and welfare measures were implemented in the state during its two-term tenure. But its rivals claim that there is a strong anti-incumbency sentiment among the voters. Hooda is also accused of confining all developmental work to his strongholds such as Rohtak, Sonepat and Jhajjar districts.

Defending the Hooda government, Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president Ashok Tanwar told TEHELKA that such allegations are a “conspiracy against the people of Haryana”. “Instead, the BJP should tell us where are the good days promised by the Modi government,” says Tanwar, 38, who took charge of the state unit in February as the youngest ever HPCC chief. “The BJP has given most of its tickets to turncoats. If it doesn’t even have its own candidates to field, then how does it expect to win the election and rule the state?”

Tanwar, who has been rigorously campaigning across the state, is considered very close to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi since his days as a student in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. Born in a Dalit family in Chimni village of Jhajjar district, his rapid rise in politics is seen as result of the reforms Rahul introduced in the grand old party. A Congress worker, who did not want to be named, told TEHELKA that such efforts are seldom “marketed” properly and that is the biggest failure of his party.

“Modi’s symbolic act of holding a broom during the launch of his government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan will have more impact on the Dalits than the Congress’ real efforts to empower them,” says the Congress worker. “After the Aam Aadmi Party’s broom experience, it seems to be a calculated move by Modi ahead of the Assembly election to attract Dalits, who constitute nearly 20 percent of the state’s population.” (The Aam Aadmi Party is not contesting the Haryana Assembly polls.)

However, Manisha, state coordinator of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, says that the Dalit votes in the state would be divided between the Congress, the INLD, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP. “This happens because even today the landlords force the Dalits to vote for candidates of their choice,” she says.

CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala, Photo: Tehelka Archives
CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala, Photo: Tehelka Archives

Many khap panchayat leaders have entered the fray this time. In fact, the khaps reportedly deliberated on mobilising their members in favour of a single political party so as to avoid their votes getting divided. This move was later abandoned due to opposition from within.

As for the Jats, the dominant caste in the state, political observers believe that their votes will be divided between the Congress and the INLD. While the Jats in Rohtak, Sonepat and Jhajjar might stand with the Congress because of the special concern shown by Hooda towards the development of these districts, most of those in the rest of the state are expected to vote for Chautala’s party, with some votes going to the BJP as well. A good share of the Punjabi vote might land in the BJP’s kitty.

While the BJP and the Congress project each other as its main contenders in this election, the INLD claims that it is the real rival for both. At his bungalow in Sirsa district, Abhay Singh Chautala, the younger son of Om Prakash Chautala and the new face of the party after the conviction of his father and elder brother, was surrounded by his party’s supporters even during the late hours of the night. His camp seemed visibly confident. “No one can form the government in Haryana without the INLD’s support,” says a party worker.

Speaking to TEHELKA, Abhay claimed that there was no Modi wave in Haryana. “In the Lok Sabha election, what we saw was the strong reaction of the people against the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. The BJP misread it as a Modi wave,” he says. “The BJP has no base in the state and people are turning up in large numbers for my father’s rallies. Ours was the only party that fought for justice during the Congress’ misrule in Haryana. That is why we will emerge as the winner. The Congress used the CBI to wrongly persecute my father and brother.”

It was evident from Abhay’s words that his party would not opt for an alliance with the Congress if there is a hung Assembly. “We will not ally with any party,” he says. However, when asked about his views on Modi, he said that “Modi is a good man”, hinting that the INLD might consider a post-poll alliance with the BJP. So, the war of words between the BJP and the INLD during the campaign could be misleading. The INLD has already formed a pre-poll alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal, a BJP ally.

In the shifting sands of Haryana politics, it is indeed difficult to predict post-poll alignments. All that will hinge on the election results that will be announced on 19 October.

letters@tehelka.com

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