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February 13, 1998


Constituency Profile/Rohtak, Haryana

Devi Lal pleads for last chance

It is the battle royale in Jat hinterland. Former deputy prime minister Devi Lal is not just battling his young, fresh and determined opponent, but also his old age as Rohtak prepares to go to the polls on February 16.

The 84-year-old candidate of the Haryana Lok Dal-Rashtriya is working on the electorate's emotions, seeking their votes in "the last election of his life". However, the young supporters of his main rival, Congress candidate Bhupinder Singh Hooda, contemptuously point out that Devi Lal had made the same appeal in earlier campaigns. Hooda defeated Devi Lal in the 1991 and 1996 polls.

Stakes in this mainly agricultural constituency shot up after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi and Kanshi Ram addressed large rallies, enthusing party workers and stepping up the respective campaigns.

Swami Indervesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Haryana Vikas Party candidate, who won the Rohtak seat in 1980 on a Lok Dal ticket, is trying hard to make the contest a triangular fight. Totally, there are 18 candidates in the fray.

The HLD-R, allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party, kicked off the campaign by holding a massive rally in Rohtak on January 15, addressed by Devi Lal and BJP supremo Kanshi Ram. Hooda's campaign gained momentum when Sonia Gandhi spoke at a mammoth gathering in Rohtak on January 28.

Swami Indervesh's campaign received a boost only after Vajpayee's February 7 rally.

Devi Lal had resigned from the Rohtak seat in 1989, preferring to retain Sikar in Rajasthan. He is seeking votes on his past performance as the state's chief minister and the nation's deputy prime minister, and has promised to double the old age pension from Rs 100 to Rs 200 per month. His grandsons and granddaughters have hit the campaign trail with him.

Hooda, who was recently appointed Haryana Congress chief, proclaims himself the son of the soil. His home village, Sanghi, falls in the Kiloi assembly segment, which is part of the Rohtak constituency. Devi Lal's native village, Chautala, is located in Sirsa district, outside the Rohtak zone.

Hooda has promised to bring the state's "seat of power" to this region and end the hegemony of the three Lals -- Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal -- who have dominated the state's political scene for the last three decades.

Swami Indervesh is seeking votes on the issue of providing an able and stable government at the Centre under Vajpayee.

Devi Lal's age and the hostility of a large section of electorate, particularly the non-Jats, towards his son and HLD-R president Om Parkash Chautala are his greatest weaknesses.

People argue that at 84, he finds it difficult to stand, walk, and talk and will, therefore, be unable to raise issues in the Lok Sabha. Moreover, the HLD-R's alliance with the BSP has failed to attract Dalit votes. Dalits in Haryana have traditionally backed the Congress rather than the BSP.

Hooda's son of the soil theory is also finding favour with the people in the constituency, specially among the Jat youth, and they are canvassing enthusiastically for him. His persistent opposition to former chief minister Bhajan Lal has won him a place of honour in the hearts of the Jats, who consider Bhajan Lal, a Bishnoi, "anti-Jat."

Swami Indervesh is banking on the support of committed RSS workers and sympathisers and followers of the Arya Samaj, besides Vajpayee's personality as a vote catcher.

Having an electorate of 939,000, the constituency comprises nine assembly segments. Of these, five are held by the HLD-R, three seats by the HVP, and one is with the Congress.

In 1996, Hooda polled 198,000 votes against the 195,000 votes secured by Devi Lal. Chaudhary finished third with 158,000 votes. Hooda won the seat by just 2,664 votes.

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