Odds stacked against Congress in poll-bound Haryana

Odds stacked against Congress in poll-bound Haryana

Incumbent Congress regime in poll-bound Haryana has more reasons to worry than any of its political adversaries. After all, facing the Assembly elections post a near total rout in Haryana in the recent Lok Sabha polls doesn’t offer any good platform to seek another quick mandate from the electorate. But Assembly elections are a different ballgame altogether, at least that’s what the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government would like to believe. Rhetoric apart, many within the Congress too aren’t hopeful of Hooda pulling off a hat-trick.

Hooda faces an unexpected surge of the saffron party in the state, which until the results of the parliament elections in May was hardly perceived as a force to reckon with in Haryana. The embattled Hooda government, now at the tail end of its second term in office, has to keep its own house in order, as much as combating the opposition. The exodus of senior Congressmen from the party --the likes of Rao Inderjit Singh, MP, Birender Singh and Hooda’s trusted lieutenant Vinod Sharma -- comes at a time when the Congress faces anti-incumbency more than ever before. Allegations of lopsided development, nepotism and real estate scams have not only made matters worse for the Congress, they also tend to eclipse achievements of the Hooda regime ahead of elections.
   
The momentous year for the Congress was 2009 when the party won a second consecutive term in the state Assembly for the first time in 37 years. But the victory wasn’t a resounding one. The Congress tally in the 90-member Haryana state Assembly fell from 67 in the first term, to 40 in 2009. Hooda, nevertheless, emerged as the tallest leader of the Congress in Jatland. He won over seven independents to form his government again.
Hooda knows this election will be his most challenging one, which is why the government is pulling out all stops and doling out lofty sops to reclaim lost turf, even if it has meant passing a controversial legislation to ensure a separate Sikh shrine panel in Haryana out of the domain of the Amritsar-based SGPC.
 
But the more worrisome part for the Congress is the sudden Phoenix-like rise of the BJP. The formation of new political alliances poses another formidable challenge for Hooda. For the Congress, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) patriarch Om Parkash Chautala and his MP son Ajay Chautala’s continuing stint in jail for corruption in recruitment of JBT teachers hasn’t worked much to its political advantage. The INLD, which many perceived as a party on the wane after the conviction of the Chautala’s, appears ‘back-in-shape,’ belligerent and ever more promising.
     
The rise of the saffron party in Haryana, arguably defies the BJP’s strength in the state. BJP’s cadre was limited and grassroot support from the masses was anything but encouraging. The ‘Modi-wave’ did the trick, just like in many other parts of the country. Today, the BJP fancies its chances of not only reclaiming lost turf but also hopes to come to power in Haryana all by itself.

Surging ahead

The BJP has only four MLAs in the outgoing Assembly, but its vote share in parliamentary polls surged to an encouraging 34 per cent this year. In 2009, the vote share was just half of it. The BJP has won seven of the eight Lok Sabha seats it contested in Haryana. In terms of Assembly segments, it registered a lead in as many as 53 of the 90 Assembly segments in the parliamentary elections. A renascent BJP now believes that its good showing is good enough to go to polls in October all alone. The first victim was its three-year old ally, the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) led by former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi, which lost the only two seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP arguably did everything to drive the HJC to snap the alliance. Party leaders weren’t anymore interested in seeing Bishnoi as the next chief minister, nor was the party prepared to give HJC equal number of seats to contest as formally penned down, perhaps, for the first time in a written contract between the two former allies.
 
The INLD, despite its scam-taint and leaders in jail, won two Lok Sabha seats and secured 24 per cent vote share. The worst hit has been the Congress, which won just one seat and settled with a 23 per cent vote share in the parliament elections.
The Congress is banking on its development agenda. Hooda claims his state has done better than even Gujarat. The party takes pride in flaunting its Land Acquisition Policy which it claims is inspirational for other states. Haryana is an encouraging nursery for sportspersons. The Gorakhpur nuclear power plant, Defence University all score high in Hooda’s report card. But the odds stacked against the party could overrun Hooda’s merit on performance.

The opposition trains guns at Hooda calling his party as an outfit of ‘property dealers’.  The taint of the infamous land deal involving Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and reality major DLF in Haryana could be good enough to bust many claims on governance and development. The growing crime rate in the state leaves a lot to be answered. On an average, three murders, two rapes, four kidnappings and two dacoities have taken place every day in Haryana. Allegations of lopsided development in the state, heavily favouring Hooda’s home turf of Rohtak, have left even senior Congress colleagues within the party fuming.  Comparing Rohtak with Chandigarh satellite township of Panchkula, once professed to be the ‘Paris of India’, RTI documents revealed that 1,237 development projects came to Rohtak, while Panchkula got a meagre 47.

Congress stares at an uncertain future, but whatever may be the outcome of the ensuing Assembly elections, the party has no choice but to go with Hooda, a  four-time MP and two-time chief minister, who is 10 Janpath’s favourite. 

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