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In Hisar, Congress faces a multi-faceted attack

October 12, 2011 02:54 IST

The battle for Hisar has 40 candidates, but the real fight is between the big three -- Kuldeep Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress, Ajay Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal and former MP Jai Prakash of the Congress.

In actuality, though, there are several parallel battles being fought for this upcoming urban centre with a population of 1.6 million, which goes for by-elections on Thursday.

Also Read: Anna's life in your hands, Kejriwal tells Hisar voters

First is the battle that has caught the imagination of the nation -- the one which is being fought between the Congress and Team Anna.  For Congress, an otherwise inconsequential seat has become a prestige issue, while for Team Anna ensuring that the Congress doesn't win will be their way of showing that they matter beyond mass-protests in Delhi.

Nobody had paid much attention when Congress had lost the seat last time, but this time, thanks to the veteran activist's anti-Congress campaign, a Congress loss will be seen as a win for the anti-corruption crusaders.

Also Read: Hazare vs Hooda: Who will Hisar voters listen to?

Local boy Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi and others have been campaigning across the constituency asking people to vote against the Congress since Saturday. As an answer to this, Congress brought in the big guns -- all nine MPs from Haryana, state Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit and Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and conducted a rally.

Though the participation of actual voters from the constituency in the rally is debatable, Congress wanted to drive home the point that by condemning their candidate, Hazare is supporting "two corrupt candidates."

Congress candidate Jai Prakash tells, "Anna Hazare and his team have maintained throughout that they are apolitical. By asking people not to vote for the Congress, they have taken a political stance."

When asked if Team Anna's campaign would work against the party, Prakash says, "Absolutely not! The people of Haryana have seen through the tactics of Team Anna. They are seeing for themselves how they have got into politics despite maintaining they are not against any party. Moreover, they are just promoting corruption by asking people to vote for the other two, because both of them are corrupt."

National leaders of the Congress did not say much against the Gandhian's ongoing campaign, other than noting, "It was not

Though Team Anna has distanced itself from the obvious benefit that has gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party-backed Kuldeep Bishnoi, the BJP was quick to milk the opportunity.

Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj went as far as saying that Team Anna "is going door-to-door to make Kuldeep Bishnoi win."

Says a senior leader of the Youth Congress, "By starting an anti-Congress campaign, Team Anna has just proven what we have been saying all along -- that they are backed by the BJP. Tell me, have they raised even one issue of corruption in any of the BJP-ruled states?"

Delhi CM Sheila Diksit asked the same question at the Congress rally in Hisar on Monday.

"Have they (Team Anna) highlighted corruption cases in BJP ruled states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh? It is only the Congress which takes a stern action against people who have indulged in corruption," Dikshit had said at the rally.

Though Congress has claimed that Team Anna's campaign has not influenced voters, it remains to be seen if that is actually the case.

The second parallel battle being fought is between two Jat and one non-Jat leader. Both Jai Prakash and Chautala claim to represent the Jat community, while Kuldeep Bishnoi is a non-Jat leader. Hisar constituency has an almost equal number of Jats and non-Jats (4.6 lakh Jat voters among total 13.32 lakh voters).

"Jat voters are disillusioned by the Hooda government and a major chunk of their votes may go to Ajay Chautala. The non-Jat voters, however, see a leader in Kuldeep Bishnoi and for long, they have been looking for a good leader. Both these factors will work against Congress's Jai Prakash," says a political commentator and local journalist.

Bhupinder Singh Hooda is fighting another battle in this election. He overrode the Congress high command's choice of Brijendra Singh, son of All India Congress Committee general secretary Birender Singh, for the seat and pitched former MP Jai Prakash instead.

Hooda campaigned long and hard for Jai Prakash, with the chief minister camping at Hisar for two weeks.

One thing is clear -- in the battle for Hisar, all fights are against the Congress. Team Anna and opposition notwithstanding, the people of Haryana also seem to be unhappy with the Hooda government due to severe price rise and rampant corruption.

Though political commentators unanimously predict a Congress loss, it remains to be seen what the loss-margin will be.

Sahi Salim in Hisar, Haryana