For the Congress, which is facing the might of Team Anna in Hisar, winning the Parliamentary by-poll is imperative, says Sahim Salim
The Parliamentary by-polls in Hisar, Haryana, have made headlines thanks to the war of words between Team Anna activists and Congress leaders. But the different communities which inhabit Hisar have other issues on their mind.
The most important issue for the Jat community is reservation in government jobs under the Other Backward Classes quota. Members of the community had paralysed rail and road traffic in many parts of northern India for several days to press for their demand.
The non-Jat communities are concerned about the alleged inaction by the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government against Jat agitators.
The Dalit community has not forgotten the horrific incident of an elderly Dalit and his physically challenged daughter being burnt alive in Mirchpur.
Inflation and corruption are two issues which have plagued all these communities.
The voters of Hisar, politically aware and opinionated, offer a mixed reaction when asked about activists of Team Anna campaigning against the Congress.
While some claim that Anna Hazare is "unheard of" in their villages, others say they have taken note of the Gandhian's message and agree with it.
For residents of Kumhar Dharamshala in Hisar, an area inhabited by labourers, the main issue is corruption in the ruling Congress government.
"What Anna Hazare's team has been saying is true. There is rampant corruption in the government. I have responded positively to their call of voting against the Congress," says Kalu Lal, a hawker.
When asked who will get his vote, Kalu says "It will not be the Congress!"
Chandra Baan, a day labourer, believes that the Congress and its policies are anti-poor.
"When you assess the Congress's policies, they seem to say that the poor have no right to live. I think Kuldeep (Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress, the son of late Bhajan Lal) is all right," Baan says.
When asked if he found the credentials of Bishnoi credible in terms of corruption, Baan says, "His father may have been involved in a case, but he is clean. In any case, what we need is a fresh start. Maybe this time, political leaders will realise that corruption can make them lose their power. That is the idea behind voting against the Congress."
Meanwhile, residents of Saini Mohalla are angry at the state government for its alleged inaction against Jat agitators during their violent protests.
"The Jat agitation cost us a lot of time and money. Some agitators burned cars, teased women and did unthinkable things. But the government remained silent. The police were not present to control the situation. This time we don't want a government which so obviously tolerates anti-social agitation by a particular community," says Kalu Nai.
Most residents of Saini Mohalla are farmers who are angry about the spiralling prices of essential commodities.
"Vegetable prices have gone up. Even the price of pesticide, which is supposed to be subsidised by the government, has increased. What we need right now is hope, so our votes will be against the government," says Hawa Singh
Surprisingly, a section of the Dalit community expressed their faith in the Hooda government. It maybe recalled that 15 people were convicted in the Mirchpur killing case in which a physically challenged Dalit girl and her septuagenarian father were burnt to death.
"What happened in Mirchpur is highly condemnable. There definitely was a caste angle to that incident, but there was also a problem within the village. The judgment was satisfactory. Such a judgment was delivered because of the present government," says Ram Pal, a resident of Balmik Mohalla.
When asked about Team Anna, another resident Tej Baan says, "What Annaji has been saying has not been ignored by us. It is a little surprising that the government has not yet taken a stand on the Jan Lokpal bill. Corruption is a major issue for us but the fact is that the other two (non-Conress) candidates are much worse when it comes to corruption. The present government has done much for our community and so our votes are with them."
But the ruling party should not get its hopes up as the powerful Jat community is vehemently against the Congress. The Jats are upset about the government dodging their demands for reservations as well as the rising levels of corruption.
In villages dominated by the Jat community, not too many people have heard of Anna Hazare.
"I know what Anna Hazare's team has been saying and their points are all valid. But the truth remains that even without their campaign, our votes would have been against the Congress. Not many have heard about Anna Hazare in our village," said Dilbagh Singh, a resident of Sarsaud village.
"In the last seven years, Bhupinder Singh Hooda has visited this area just once (on Sunday for campaigning). Hardly 30 people from the three Jat villages here turned up to hear what he had to say," says Shamser Singh.
Majority of the residents of three Jat-dominated villages -- Sarsaud, Bhishpadi and Zevra -- say that their votes are with Indian National Lok Dal leader Ajay Chautala.
"Under the Hooda government, we have suffered the effects of severe price rise. We can't cope with it anymore. Maybe Chautala will be able to curb it," Ramesh Singh says.
When asked if he thought Chautala would be able to address their demand for reservations, Dilbagh Singh says, "It does not matter who comes to power. That issue will be resolved in our favour. If the government does not grant us reservation, we will take it by force. So that particular issue will not be influencing our votes".
Hisar goes to polls on Thursday and the results will be out on October 17. As intense campaigning continues in this constituency, the non-Congress leaders seem to be at an advantage.
But for the Congress, which is facing the might of Team Anna here, winning this seat is imperative as it has become a prestige issue for the party.