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Hisar: Will it be a tough test for Congress?
There is already a buzz around as Hisar district in Haryana goes to poll on October 13. As speculations mount over who will fill in the shoes of Late Bhajan Lal, these by-elections will be the first real test for Congress after the Anna Hazare movement.
Issue Date - 13/10/2011
A lot has already been said about how the October 13 by-election for the Hisar Lok Sabha seat is ‘not just another poll’ in Haryana and how this is going to be a battle royale between the top leadership of all major parties in the state as they try to fit into the shoes of political stalwart and former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal (whose death in June this year necessitated these polls). But the real importance that this election holds in wake of the recent Anna Hazare unrest – an issue that had led to a widespread perception against what many termed as ‘the autocratic ways’ of the Congress party – is that of a bigger challenge for Congress. The question remains, can Congress shrug off the past and go ahead to score a point here?

Even otherwise, the going has not been easy for the ruling United Progressive Alliance-II (UPA-II) government. For the people of India, there has even been a time when every morning would see the unveiling of a new scam. Though the past few years have seen a number of scandals and financial misappropriations from top policy makers, nothing has been able to match the Rs.1.76 lakh crore 2G scam involving the process of allocating unified access service licenses. The Commonwealth Games saw the government make a mockery out of itself in both national and international media. High inflation, prices of food products, petrol and LPG shooting through the roof have all left the people of this country baffled. Add to it the Planning Commission’s recently announced benchmark of poverty and you get a grim scenario. In an affidavit presented before the Supreme Court, the commission has fixed the cut-off at an expenditure of Rs.32 for urban and Rs.26 for the rural areas in the country. The dilutions of the food security bill have also not gone down well with general sections of the public. True that the government has definitely worked upon some very progressive policies like the Land Acquisition Act, but the general anti-government perception buoyed by the anti-corruption movements could make Hisar an acid test for Congress.

The ghosts of the Ramlila Maidan agitation are here to haunt politicians once again and Congress could well be on the receiving end. Choosing poll-bound Hisar as its next battlefield, Team Anna has said it would campaign against those candidates whose party chiefs refuse to give a written undertaking that they will support the Jan Lokpal Bill in the Parliament. “We want the Jan Lokpal bill to be an issue in the by-polls. The presidents of political parties should give the people of Hisar in writing that when the issue comes up in the Parliament, they will support the Jan Lokpal Bill,” said Arvind Kejriwal, who also happens to be a resident of Hisar. He said party presidents like Sonia Gandhi in case of the Congress and Nitin Gadkari in case of the BJP would have to give in writing that their respective political parties would issue a whip in the Parliament latest by September 30 in favour of the Jan Lokpal Bill when it comes for voting. Call it the art of apolitical politics or anything else, although members of Team Anna have abstained from venturing into active politics, their stand suggests that they could play a crucial role in breaking many aspirations.

For Hisar, it will be a test of many sorts. Three-time Chief Minister and former Union minister Bhajan Lal was the only towering non-Jat leader in Haryana’s politics that is largely dominated by Jat community leaders. Also, he was the only non-Congress winner in the state in the 2009 general elections. All other nine Lok Sabha seats were bagged by the Congress at that time. And now, despite the fact that the party’s image took kind of a dent in the whole Anna Hazare issue, it is perhaps the best time for them to make their position a perfect 10 in Haryana. And for that it needs to prove that it is still unfazed by the recent happenings and also enjoys people’s support. But then, the Mirchpur incident which saw a 70-year-old man from the Dalit community and his physically challenged 18-year-old daughter burnt alive in the course of a mob violence that was unleashed by the dominant Jat community has only added to Congress’ woes. The village in Hisar district hit the headlines in April last year when around 150 Dalit families were driven out of the village, about 300 kms from Chandigarh, and 18 homes were torched.

However, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda says these elections are more of an opportunity for the ruling government and not a test. “Every election is important. However, if you ask me what is so special about it this time, I would say that Hisar was the only seat we lost the last time and this is an opportunity to change that,” says the Congress leader who is serving his second consecutive term as the Haryana Chief Minister.


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