Going gets tough for Cong

Going gets tough for Cong

Going gets tough for Cong

It’s now been weeks since Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda played his every morning game of tennis he loves so dearly.

His faith, bordering superstition, of feeding his cattle with his own hands every day at his palatial official bungalow in Chandigarh too has been long ignored because of elections. But Hooda knows, this election there isn’t any time for complacency.

This is by far the toughest election the Congress in Haryana, completing a decade in office later this year, is facing. For a decade now, Hooda has enjoyed majority both in the assembly and the general elections. Yet, denials apart, just like the UPA-II, Hooda too is battling a strong 10 years of anti-incumbency.

For the Congress, a damp performance in the general election is even worse, given that much of the sentiment is likely to rub on to the assembly polls in Haryana lined up later this year. But Hooda is known to spring a surprise. He defied anti-incumbency, surveys and predictions repeating office in 2009 assembly elections.

Traditionally, Haryana has voted en masse in favour or against one or the other party. Hooda knows a fractured mandate or a split verdict is not a possibility and he has to do whatever it takes to maintain the Congress’ robust vote share.

But the Congress cannot overlook the glaring odds that it encounters merely on the basis of its past laurels of two terms in office. His party has been disfigured by some major desertions and ‘drop outs’ ahead of elections (read sitting MP and former Union minister Selja who conveniently opted for the easy Rajya Sabha route to prolong her MP credentials.)

There’s been scaling factionalism within the party and the Hooda government fights this election amid carpet bombing from the opposition on charges of corruption and shady land deals. Despite anti-incumbency, the Congress is fielding 6 of its sitting MPs.

The opposition outfits- the O P Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), BJP-HJC (Haryana Janhit Congress) combine, the BSP and even the AAP- appear battle ready like never before and are vying for political gains in the changing landscape in Jatland.

The Congress has an envious track record when it comes to LS elections. It won 9 out of 10 seats in 2004 and justified its credibility again in 2009 wining exactly the same number of seats. The Congress’ vote share in the last two parliamentary elections has been more than the vote share of the INLD and the BJP put together in the state.

Yet, as one travels across the spectrum in this northern state, the clamour for change starts to show up, if now evident.

Shady land deals

The Congress is going to elections on the development plank and its other achievements, especially on scoring even over Gujarat on some of fiscal and other indicators.

Hooda pulled all stops to woo voters announcing a slew of incentives before the model code of conduct kicked in. His MPs are going to town with UPA’s flagship schemes and local area development.

Hooda has arguably shown development in the state. But his detractors sobriquet him as a ‘real estate agent’ and his government “hounding” whistleblower bureaucrats like Ashok Khemka and Sanjiv Chaturvedi has done no good to its image.

 The controversial lands deals involving Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and realty major DLF, is likely to cast its shadow in the Lok Sabha polls. The lid over this high-profile controversial deal was blown by Khemka who faced the heat for cancelling Vadra’s mutation of land deal.

The opposition alleges that Congress leaders cheated state farmers by acquiring their land at a cheaper rate and selling them to private players.

Hooda’s government has faced allegations about the violation of norms in allotting land to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) and the DLF.

The Comptroller and Auditor General claimed the law was changed to facilitate the release of land to the Trust.

The BJP in Haryana has not much to flaunt other than the perceived Narendra Modi wave. Its vote share in Haryana has been meagre and the last time it won an LS seat was 10 years ago. But that is a thing of the past. Its alliance with the HJC led by Kuldeep Bishnoi promises to capture sizeable ground, both in vote share and seats.

The prime opposition party, the INLD has its two top leader- former CM Chautala and son Ajay Chautala- behind bars convicted in the infamous recruitment scandal.

But the party is posing a serious challenge and hopes to gain some sympathy from voters. The entry of the political greenhorn outfit, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), leaves the contest wide open.

AAP’s top leaders, Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, both have roots in Haryana, but its way in caste-community and dynasty driven vote-bank politics in Haryana may not be a smooth ride. Old warhorse and senior Congress leader Rao Inderjit Singh left the party to contest the Gurgaon seat on the saffron party ticket.

More damning was when one of Hooda’s most close confidant and MLA Venod Sharma, quit the party. The BSP is a party to watch out for. It may not have won an MP seat in Haryana, but its vote share climbed from 5 to 16 per cent in the last general elections in 2009.

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