Rohtak / Hisar / Sirsa: Facing a divided opposition, the Congress party in Haryana seems set for a comeback to power in the state. Analysts, however, say a strong undercurrent of discontent due to the rise in prices of essential commodities as well as regional equations could reduce the party’s present two-thirds majority.
Haryana goes to polls on 13 October along with Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Congress, in a departure from the past, is projecting incumbent chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as its leader—another aspect that analysts say could hurt the party.
The Congress, though, has not officially announced Hooda as its chief ministerial candidate.
Inflation woes: Congress candidate from Hisar Savitri Jindal (centre) flanked by Krishna and Basanti. The two daily-wage labourers had to send their teenage school-going sons to work in order to meet expenses. Rajkumar / Mint
The political reins in Haryana, ever since it was carved out of Punjab in 1966, have mostly remained in the hands of a few leaders from the central and western belts of the state.
Hooda is from Rohtak district in central Haryana; Hisar in the western part of the state dominated state politics with former Congress chief ministers Bhajan Lal and Bansi Lal at the helm for nearly two decades. Om Prakash Chautala, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief and former chief minister, hails from Sirsa in the west.
Bhajan Lal, hurt from Hooda’s naming as chief minister and the suspension of his son Kuldeep Bishnoi, split from the Congress in 2007 to form the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).
“The elections on most occasions in Haryana are reduced to the fight for chaudrai (dominance). Congress has always preferred this confusion of leadership to prevail till the results are declared, but with Hooda being projected as the chief ministerial candidate, there are all chances that Congress could find it difficult to sail through in other regions,” says Satish Tyagi, a Haryana-based political analyst and a columnist in Hindi newspapers.
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But the Congress faces a divided opposition. The HJC has parted ways with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has moved away from the INLD.
The HJC’s Bishnoi says the Congress is unlikely to gain from these splits. “(The) Congress should not be surprised if the trend in (the) Lok Sabha gets totally reversed in these polls. The people here are fed up of the corruption and lawlessness under the Congress and INLD rule. They are looking for an alternative. They would surely prefer someone young and one who has fresh ideas,” says the 41-year-old Bishnoi.
In the 2005 assembly polls, the Congress won 67 of the 90 seats in the state legislature. INLD came a poor second with nine seats, the BJP won two and the BSP, one.
The Congress’ winning streak continued in the latest April-May elections to Parliament—the party secured nine of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state, with about 42% of the vote share.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s BSP sprang a surprise in Haryana, securing 15.74% of the votes in the general polls, only 0.03% less than the INLD. HJC patron Bhajan Lal won the lone non-Congress seat, from Hisar.
The opposition in the state is engaged in a low-key but incessant campaign on rising prices using pamphlets with appeals to “throw away the Congress regime responsible for the price rise”.
Basanti and Krishna, sisters and daily-wage labourers in Mahavir Colony of Hisar, who denied giving their complete names, had to let their teenage school-going sons take up labour work in construction sites to help meet family expenses. Monthly expenses have doubled over the past two years, they say.
“Whoever is ruling, they seem least bothered with our plight,” says Krishna, when asked if they were satisfied with the Congress rule.
B.G. Verghese, a political analyst and visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, says the increase in prices and issues such as unemployment are bound to have an effect in states such as Haryana, and could substantially reduce the number of seats for the Congress.
“The poor and middle class today are suffering without complaining. They would use their voting power to bring solace to their lives,” says INLD leader and member of Parliament Ajay Chautala.
“Our party’s campaign is centred around the issue of price rise among other things like lawlessness in the state,” said Chautala.