Haryana Polls: Jatland politics & the blooming lotus

Haryana Assembly Elections 2014 are once again set to be a battle royale between the famous clans of the state. However, new dimensions have been added this time with more players entering the fray and vying to make an impact.

Traditionally, the playground of the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), a third angle to the race emerged when late Bhajan Lal broke ranks with the Congress in 2007 and formed Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) as a mark of protest against the leadership’s decision to elevate veteran freedom fighter Ranbir Singh’s son Bhupinder Singh Hooda as the chief minister, when the party came to power in 2005.

With Bhajan Lal’s passing away, his son Kuldeep Bishnoi is now carrying forward the legacy and would be fighting from his traditional Adampur seat in a make or break contest to stay relevant, particularly as he has parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in August this year. And also because he has been unable to keep his flock intact - of the total 6 seats that the HJC had won in the 2009 assembly elections, 5 MLAs defected to the Congress leaving Kuldeep Bishnoi as the lone torch bearer of his party in the Assembly.

The BJP is the fourth angle and could hold the trump card in these polls for the first time since the state was formed in 1966. It is also for the first time that the party is contesting all 90 seats in the state, and senior leader Rajnath Singh has said it is playing to win a “60-plus” game, though it had garnered only three seats in 2009 elections.

There are two other new parties in the state: The Haryana Jan Chetna Party (HJCP) was formed by Venod Sharma, who broke away from the Congress for being sidelined by Hooda and because he himself had chief ministerial ambitions. The second, Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP) was created by Independent MLA Gopal Kanda, who is prime accused in the suicide case of air hostess Geetika Sharma.

For better or for worse, ex-Congressmen have united and Sharma’s HJCP and Bishnoi’s HJC have formed an alliance.

The party that was highly visible only a few months back but will not be contesting in these elections is the Aam Admi Party, which drew a blank in the general elections and Yogendra Yadav, one the party’s best known faces, even lost his deposit.

Coming back to the Congress, the party has been in power for the last 10 years and, in all fairness, the state has seen substantial progress under Hooda’s leadership. However, it is facing anti-incumbency and land scam charges mainly related with Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s DLF deals. The party is also encountering infighting and one of its senior leaders and three-time MP Rao Inderjit Singh, who also belongs to the royal family of Rewari, defected to the BJP at the beginning of the year.

The Congress had won 40 of the 90 seats in 2009 while the INLD had grabbed 31 (though the configuration changed with deals later). This time Tau’s clan would like to see a role reversal with Om Prakash Chautala (Devi Lal’s son) allegedly claiming that he would take oath in jail. Hard times had come upon the party when father-son duo Om Prakash and Ajay Singh Chautala were convicted in the teachers’ recruitment scam by a CBI court and put behind bars for 10 years.

The party has not tasted power for a decade and is desperate for a resurrection. It is hoping to ride on the sympathy wave considering its senior leaders have been jailed, and Om Prakash Chautala, who is controversially out on bail assumedly on health grounds, is leaving no stone unturned to canvass support for his party by addressing several rallies. The party has also roped in the good services of singer Yo Yo Honey Singh to catch some young votes. The party would be fighting from 88 seats, leaving two for its ally Shiromani Akali Dal.

Considering the way the chess board has been laid out, there are some interesting competitions that will be in the offing. In Hisar, Congress nominee billionairess Savitri Jindal and mother of coal scam accused Naveen Jindal would like to be third time lucky from the seat, but could face challenges considering her son lost his seat in the General Elections this year.

Uchana Kalan would be one of the mostly hotly contested constituencies where one of Haryana’s founders Chhotu Ram’s grand-daughter-in-law Premlata Singh would be contesting on a BJP ticket after her husband Chaudhary Birender Singh abandoned the Congress. She will be up against Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson Dushyant.

From the high profile seat of Tosham that has been long retained by Congress leader Bansi Lal’s family, his daughter-in-law Kiran Chaudhary has been nominated to contest. Considering it is their pocket borough, she would have been confident of an easy win but for the fact that her daughter Shruti lost in the Lok Sabha elections this year from here, putting a question mark on the seat being safe.

Naina Singh, wife of Ajay Chautala is standing from the Chautala stronghold of Dabwali whereas chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda would be contesting from Garhi Sampla-Kiloi in Rohtak, his sitting seat.

Kuldeep Bishnoi's wife Renuka is contesting from Hansi while his brother Chander Mohan (notorious for having eloped and converted to Islam to marry lawyer Fiza and later abandoning her and reconverting to Hinduism) is contesting from Nalwa.

Among other prominent contenders is BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s sister Vandana Sharma who has been given a ticket from Safidon constituency in Jind district.

Besides anti-incumbency, chief minister Bhupinder Hooda is fighting dissidence and the problems of high unemployment and lack of proper education facilities. Caste affiliations and issues like Jat reservations and khap diktats would have a strong bearing on the pattern of voting as would farmer issues like Minimum Support Price and other sops for agriculture.

A factor that could come handy for Hooda could be his controversial support to separate Haryana Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee from Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak  Committee, a move that would put coffers of reportedly Rs 100 crore into the hands of Sikh and Punjabi religious leaders in Haryana.

The dera culture (establishments of self-styled spiritual leaders) is prominent in Haryana and which way people vote is greatly influenced by decisions taken by people like Dera Sachha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Sirsa.

At this point there is no clear winner, but if BJP emerges as the single largest party, it would be historic and the first ever standalone victory in the state for the party.

However, the BJP is yet to clarify its stand on the chief ministerial candidate. Haryana state president Ramvilas Sharma is one contender and he is contesting from the high profile seat of Mahendergarh, which is an Ahir Yadav stronghold. The other contender for the top post is the party spokesperson Captain Abhimanyu, who has been nominated from Narnaund. The third is RSS pracharak Manoharlal Khattar, who is fighting from Karnal, and is popular with the Punjabi community.

Even though the race is likely to heat up for chief ministership within the party, BJP’s victory would be a momentous step in a state that is known for dynastic politics and where a handful of clans have claimed the throne, generation after generation.

What remains to be seen is whether the Narendra Modi wave would work its magic again or whether caste and clan strings would prove to be more durable.

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