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August 26, 1999


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Haryana gets ready for another round of 'Lal' salaam

Politicians in Haryana, the land that spawned the 'Aya Ram-Gaya Ram' brand of changing party affiliations at the drop of a turban, have once again created a topsy-turvy situation, leaving it to the voter to decide who to swing for this time.

The canny Jats, though comprising only 22 per cent of the electorate, markedly influence the outcome of the polls which usually is to choose between the three lals -- Bansi, Devi and Bhajan -- to head the government. Besides 20 per cent Scheduled Castes, the state has seven per cent Sikhs and four per cent Muslims. The rest belong to various communities like Brahmins, Vaishyas, Gujjars and the like.

The voter had given the then ruling Haryana Vikas Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance a rap on the knuckle in 1998 by posting a negative swing of five per cent. The net result was that the combine could win only two of the total 10 Lok Sabha seats. But since then, the situation has undergone a sea-change. The BJP, having broken away from the alliance, walked over to the opposite camp, the Indian National Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chautala. The HVP regime, that survived a few weeks more on Congress largesse, finally collapsed when the latter withdrew support, and Chautala was able to cobble up a ministry with the help of the BJP and some other groups and come to power. Thus, at present, the BJP has joined hands with the INLD to take on its former ally, the HVP, as also the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Chautala, while hoping to ride on the anti-incumbency feelings against the recently unseated Bansi Lal government, is also trying to cash in on the newfound equation with the BJP. In the last elections, Chautala's party, then known as the Haryana Lok Dal, had won four seats with a six per cent swing in its favour. The BSP, which contested as its ally, bagged one seat, with a two per cent positive swing.

But this time all equations have undergone a dramatic restructuring. The INLD and the BJP are contesting five seats each under their poll pact. The Congress is fighting all the ten seats while the HVP is contesting Bhiwani and Faridabad and its partner, the BSP, the Ambala (Reserved), Karnal and Mahendragarh.

Interestingly, the Congress which had gained due to infighting among the HVP-BJP and INLD is facing an uphill task. The political upheavals in the state during the past three months vis-a-vis the party's changing stance of supporting and then opposing the Bansi Lal regime has put it in a quandary.

The HVP-BSP is maintaining a low profile after the inglorious exit of Bansi lal and a faction of the HVP striking a deal with the INLD for a share of the spoils by getting inducted into the new ministry. According to a UNI-C voter analysis, the BJP and HVP combine gathered all the anti-Congress votes in 1996 when both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections were held simultaneously. But in two years time, due to anti-establishment feelings against the state government, these votes shifted to the HLD (now INLD) which had contested as the Samata Party in 1996.

This shift of votes caused a positive swing of six per cent in HLD's favour. The party's electoral understanding with the BSP last time, resulted in polling 33 per cent of the votes together and winning five seats. The HLD alone had polled 25 per cent votes against its 19 per cent vote share in 1996. As most of the seats were wrested from the BJP and HVP, it is fair to assume that the HLD had got a share of anti-Congress votes.

Despite a positive swing of four per cent, the Congress was able to add only one more seat to its 1996 tally of two. Observers say that caste politics may be put on the backburner this time and national issues like stature of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and controversies like the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi and the Kargil issue brought to the forefront.

The state, which goes to polls on September 5, will witness quadrangular contests in five of the ten seats. It will be triangular in three and straight fights in two. A total 114 candidates are left in the fray. Key contests will be witnessed in Karnal, Rohtak and Bhiwani. Former chief minister Bhajan Lal (Congress) is seeking to retain Karnal seat which he had wrested from I D Swami of the BJP in 1998. His main opponent once again is I D Swami who is being supported by the INLD this time.

Though the hometown of the charismatic BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, the voters had shown her the door all the three times she contested from here -- in 1980, 1984 and 1989. Close to a fifth of the voters here belong to the Scheduled Castes but it is the Brahmins, who constitute ten per cent of the electorate, who play a decisive role on the electoral outcome.

Rohtak is former deputy prime minister Devi Lal's hometown and a nerve-centre of Jat politics. Chaudhary Devi Lal, popularly known as 'Tau', had lost in 1998 to Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress by a whisker -- just 383 votes -- despite the 84-year-old patriarch having left no stone unturned to avenge his two consecutive defeats earlier. This time he is not contesting.

Hooda is being opposed by Inder Singh (INLD) and Kanta (Samajwadi Party) besides eleven independents. Jats, constituting 38 per cent of the electorate play a decisive role here. The constituency has a literacy rate of 60 per cent. Almost one-third of the voters are engaged in trade, service-related occupations and industries.

Bhiwani is the constituency of the architect of modern Haryana, Bansi Lal, who has been chief minister for two terms. He had won the seat in 1980, 1984 and 1989, on a Congress ticket. He left the party in 1991 and formed the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP). Ever since no Congress candidate had won from here. Bansi Lal's son, Surinder Singh is the HVP candidate, trying to retain the seat for the third time. He had first won the seat in 1996 with a huge margin of more than 2,25,000 votes. In 1998, he defeated Ajay Singh Chautala, son of Chief Minister Chautala. This time also, Ajay Singh is in the fray. The other main contenders are Dharam Vir (Congress ) and Ramesh (Samajwadi Party).


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