August 31, 2014

AKHADA - Part I

THE CONTENDERS



The defeat of the BJP in the recently concluded Bihar by-polls (Link) has raised question marks over the Modi wave and if it can help his party do well even in the states where it lacks a strong organizational base. Of course, this might well be true. There is no doubt that in the elections to the assemblies of Jammu Kashmir (Link) and Maharashtra (Link) scheduled later this year, the saffron outfit is going to find it extremely difficult to replicate the superlative figures that it got in the parliamentary polls from here. However, if there is one state post the May results where the party can genuinely fancy its chances, it has to be Haryana. Fighting the elections in alliance with Bishnoi's HJC, the saffronists obliterated the Congress, winning seven out of the eight seats that they contested. Apart from a resurgent BJP which is sensing victory, the Hooda regime is battling massive infighting within the state Congress unit, a cancer which if not cured soon may end up rendering the INC's electoral campaign 'toothless'. With a host of leaders from various political parties hoping on to the saffron bandwagon, the morale in the BJP camp is on an all time high. It is probably because of this that the party has refused to honor the seat sharing arrangement that it had finalized with the HJC, leading to the latter walking out of the NDA. At the same time, with most of the INLD top brass still behind the bars, the regional party is unlikely to be a serious challenger to either of the two national parties that are all set to dominate Haryana politics for some time now.

Trouble for the incumbent CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda started probably in September last year when Narendra Modi addressed a rally of ex-servicemen in Rewari following his anointment as the NDA's official PM candidate. With the Gujarat CM making several trips to Haryana in course of the campaign, his talk of development seems to have convinced at least several Congressmen including four serving MPs that their continued association with the grand old party could jeopardize their political careers. After the INC managed to win just a single seat in the Lok Sabha polls, the skeletons came tumbling out of the closet as many state leaders questioned Hooda's leadership abilities. While leader like Ajay Singh and Kumari Selja had questioned Hooda's leadership, others including Jitender Malik and Jat strongman Bhirender Singh joined the saffron camp. The high command finally seems to have woken up and has taken stock of the situation before it deteriorates further. In a bid to mollify senior leader Ajay Singh who had earlier resigned from the Hooda cabinet, the six time MLA has been put in charge of the party's election campaign committee in Haryana. As if to satisfy the numerous warring factions within its ranks, the seven member panel also includes the CM and his son - Deepak who represents Rohtak in the Parliament. It remains to be seen if the change in leadership could help the Congress in tackling the anti-incumbency in the polls.

As if his defeat to INLD's Dushyant Chautala from the Hisar parliamentary seat was not enough, former CM Bhansi Lal's son and Haryana Janhit Congress (HJP) chief Bishnoi was left red-faced when the BJP flatly refused to concede his demands of 45 seats in the upcoming state elections. According to the agreement between the two parties agreed upon an year back, the HJC and the saffron outfit were to contest half the number of seats each and had agreed to project Kuldeep Bishnoi as the CM candidate of the alliance. With the regional party failing to win either of the two parliamentary seats that it contested in May 2014 and the BJP putting up an impressive show, the saffronists, now bubbling with confidence wanted to re-negotiate terms. As more leaders from various parties joined the BJP, many within the state unit asked the central leadership to take a tougher stance towards Bishnoi and the HJC. With no clear communication over the matter from Amit Shah or the BJP central leadership, Bishnoi broke off the alliance. In fact, he has now joined hands with Venod Sharma's Jan Chetna Party (JCP) and has vowed to teach his former ally a lesson besides defeating the Congress. The JCP chief is the father of Mannu Sharma who was convicted for the killing of Jessica Lal in 1999. Known to be close to Hooda, the Brahmin leader left the Congress earlier this year and launched his new outfit after his attempts of contesting on a NDA ticket for the General Elections was bitterly opposed by senior BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj.

The once powerful Indian National Lok Dal (INDL) which ruled in Haryana for a full term between 1999 and 2004 has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former glory. The crushing defeat in two consecutive state polls almost broke the morale of the cadre. However, the lethal blow came in early 2013, when a court in New Delhi sentenced Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala to ten years imprisonment for their role in the recruitment scam. With its top leadership tainted, it seemed that the days for the Jat outfit were numbered. As such, it did come as a surprise when the Chautalas went on to win two seats in the recently concluded parliamentary polls. While Om Prakash's grandson Dushyant beat HJC chief Bishnoi, INLD candidate Charanjeet Singh Rori won from Sirsa. Although the regional party seems to be on the rise, it is highly unlikely that it will win more than 10 seats in the state elections. There were reports that outfit was keen on a coalition with the BJP for the upcoming polls and the Akalis too had asked the saffronists to consider this proposal. However, with corruption being an important electoral issue today, any kind of understand with the INLD can potentially backfire.

After a dream debut in the Delhi state polls and a good showing in Punjab in the Lok Sabha elections where it won four seats, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) was expected to emerge as the strongest rival to the ruling Congress's dominance in Haryana. In fact, many believed that senior leader and psephologist Yogendra Yadav would help the Kejriwal led outfit to make significant roads here. However, following the May 16 results, the AAP seems to be in complete disarray. Besides severe infighting, the former Delhi CM's hasty decision of resigning from his chair after being in power for 49 days has certainly led to a perception that Kejriwal & Co can never rise above dharnas and agitations to provide a stable government to the people. Much like the INC, the AAP seems to be fighting the upcoming polls with its back against the wall. On the other end of the political spectrum, former state home minister Gopal Kanda too has floated his own party - the Haryana Lokhit Congress (HLC) after withdrawing his support to the incumbent Hooda government. The prime accused in the murder of air hostess Geetika Sharma, the Sirsa MLA spent several days behind the bars and is presently out on bail. Ironically, the 46 year old has vowed to shake up the entire political establishment in Haryana. Meanwhile, the Bahaujan Samajwadi party (BSP) too has thrown its hat in the ring and has declared former Congress MP Arvind Sharma as its CM candidate.

After winning seven of the eight parliamentary seats that it contested in the state three months ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is believed by many to be in the best posiiton to form the next regime in Haryana. For a party that was considered as a minor player in Haryana politics until an year ago, the elevation of Modi and the entry of several high profile candidates from the Congress and the INLD has suddenly transformed the saffron outfit into a major contender for the top spot. So confident is the BJP of doing well that it has literally 'forced' HJC supremo Kuldeep Bishnoi to break ties with it and has also spurned all offers of its former ally, the INLD. However, following the unexpected blow that the NDA suffered in the recently concluded by-polls in Bihar, the party has to be wary. Without a prominent face in the state, the BJP may find it difficult to get the votes. Besides, the joining of several high profile candidates en masse into the saffron camp could lead to factionalism and jeopardize the ticket distribution exercise. All in all, though the BJP is at present the most popular in Haryana, victory in the upcoming state polls is far from guaranteed.


For more posts on the Haryana 2014 State Elections, click here (Link)