Haryana polls: Uphill task for Congress as BJP, INLD march ahead (Curtain Raiser)

Chandigarh, Oct 13 (IANS) With the BJP and the INLD marching ahead to take a shot at forming the next government in the state, the ruling Congress faces an uphill task in seeking a third term in Haryana. The state goes to polls Wednesday.

As the din of campaigning settled down Monday evening, the 1.63 crore eligible voters in the state will have to decide which way to go in the elections this time as most seats are witnessing multi-cornered contests. The state has 90 assembly seats.
Over 52 percent of the 1,351 contesting candidates in the fray this time are millionaires. The state, which has the worst sex ratio among states in the country, is seeing the highest number – 109 – of women candidates in this election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which banked completely on the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and even failed to project any leader as its chief ministerial candidate, is, for the first time, taking a shot at coming to power on its own.
In the past, the BJP has played second fiddle to other regional parties in the state, including the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
The ‘party with a difference’ is hoping to make it to power, riding piggy-back on Modi’s charisma with the state BJP top leadership completely failing in making an impact on electorate across the state. Other parties have even ridiculed the BJP for having more chief ministerial aspirants than top leaders.
The INLD, whose top leaders Om Prakash Chautala and Ajay Chautala are in jail, has been able to pull itself out of the woods in the last three weeks.
Former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, who is the INLD president, led the party’s campaigning since Sep 25 in clear violation of the conditions of bail granted to him on “health grounds” by the Delhi high court. The high court cancelled his bail and asked him to surrender to Delhi’s Tihar prison.
However, Chautala, before surrendering Saturday evening, had put the INLD on the front foot with his rallies and road shows drawing good crowds in Haryana’s Jat-dominated areas.
The Congress, which has been in power since March 2005, is relying on chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to see it through the finish line.
Hooda, whose government has been embroiled in several land scams and other corruption issues, has been selling the development and progress card. To his credit, Hooda has, in the past nearly a decade, offered incentives and welfare schemes to almost all sections of society – be it farmers, sportspersons, old age people, employees and homeless poor. This has made him popular in some sections.
Other players in the political fray include the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), the newly floated Haryana Jan Chetna Party (HJCP) and Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others. Independent candidates, who are mostly rebels of leading parties, too have made the election multi-cornered and interesting.
While the BJP has accused other parties and leaders of scams and corruption in the past 25 years and is seeking a clear majority for itself, the INLD, Congress and HJC are not going to let it have a free run. Even as the Congress seems trailing in the contest of top three, the BJP and INLD are surely involved in a neck and neck race.
The final say, and choice, will be made by the state’s electorate Wednesday.