Chandigarh: In Monday’s assembly elections, for all 90 seats in India’s deeply clan-bound Haryana state, it is largely the BJP’s star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, versus lacklustre campaigning by the faction-ridden opposition Congress.
In a handful of Jat-dominated seats, a challenge is being posed by a young outfit, the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), a breakaway faction of the once prominent Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by Dushyant Chautala, 31, who is being seen as the real inheritor of his great grandfather Devi Lal’s political legacy.
The three-week high-pitched election campaign has seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi devoting four days in the last phase to hold seven public meetings.
His cabinet colleagues Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh separately addressed seven and nine rallies, respectively.
Unlike the BJP, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi addressed two election rallies, including one that Sonia Gandhi was supposed to address.
Congress’ prominent Jat face Bhupinder Singh Hooda did not get an opportunity to share stage with Rahul Gandhi. Also, Gandhi did not campaign in areas considered to be Hooda’s strongholds.
This election is a litmus test for BJP Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who goes by the principles of ‘Ram Rajya’ in running state affairs. Khattar, a non-Jat, who is in the BJP since 1994, is again in the fray from his safe seat Karnal.
Throughout his campaigning, he largely played the nationalist card, highlighting major decisions taken by the Central government like abrogation of Article 370 relating to Jammu and Kashmir.
Khattar’s major achievement has been to deliver a corruption-free government and transparency in recruitment for government jobs.
The saffron party, which had won 47 seats in the last elections and formed the government in the state for the first time, is targeting 75-plus seats.
Leader of the Opposition and shadow Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is contesting once again from his bastion Garhi Sampla-Kiloi in Rohtak district.
Hooda, a de-facto chief ministerial candidate, feels his party has an edge over the ruling BJP owing to huge unemployment in the state, that as per estimates has reached 28.7 per cent against the national average of 8.4 per cent.
To counter Hooda, the saffron party has pitted defected INLD leader Satish Nandal, who recently joined the BJP.
Nandal previously contested two Assembly elections against Hooda, in 2009 and 2014, and ended up as his closest rival on both occasions.
It’s a battle of prestige for Rahul Gandhi’s close lieutenant and party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, who is seeking re-election from Kaithal.
In an election rally in Kaithal, BJP national President Amit Shah took potshots at Surjewala, saying “ for whatever Modiji does, Surjewala gets a stomach ache.”
Playing the nationalist card, he made it clear that illegal immigration and the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) remained BJP’s core priorities.
For the third and fourth generations in former Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Devi Lal’s family, it is a battle of survival both for the INLD and its breakaway JJP.
The Chautala clan in the poll arena are Abhay Singh, Dushyant, Naina, Ranjit Singh and Aditya Devi Lal.
Dushyant Chautala, the great grandson of the late Devi Lal, is contesting from Uchana Kalan in Jind district. His party is contesting all 90 assembly seats.
So is his estranged uncle and Devi Lal’s grandson Abhay Singh Chautala, who is contesting from Ellenabad in Sirsa.
Sitting legislator Naina Chautala is contesting from Badhra in Bhiwani district via his son’s outfit JJP.
The BJP has fielded Devi Lal’s grandson Aditya Devi Lal from Dabwali in Sirsa district.
Devi Lal’s son Ranjit Singh has fielded himself as an Independent from Rania in Sirsa district after the Congress denied him a ticket.
Clans of other erstwhile stalwarts fighting it out are three family members of the four-time Chief Minister and two-time Union Minister Bansi Lal and the two sons of three-time Chief Minister Bhajan Lal.
They are contesting as Congress nominees. Bansi Lal’s daughter-in-law Kiran Choudhry is vying for her fourth consecutive victory from the family citadel, Tosham.
Her estranged brother-in-law Ranbir Mahendra, a former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is in fray from Badhra, which is seeing a clash between the two dynasties of Devi Lal and Bansi Lal.
Another clan member of the late Bansi Lal is his son-in-law and former legislator and Congress leader Somvir Singh Sheoran, who is contesting from Loharu in Bhiwani district, a seat the BJP has never won.
The Bhajan Lal dynasty too is trying to preserve the family legacy.
Sitting legislator Kuldeep Bishnoi, whose hotel worth Rs1.5 billion in a prime location of Gurugram has been attached by the Income Tax Department, has been re-nominated from Adampur, while his elder brother and former Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Chander Mohan has been fielded from Panchkula.
Outgoing state Finance Minister Captain Abhimanyu is trying his luck again from Narnaund in Hisar district. With assets worth Rs1.7 billion (Dh87.9 million) against Rs773 million during the 2014 assembly elections, he is the richest candidate in the fray.
The most active of all state ministers and quite popular for his action-oriented style of functioning and plain speaking is five-time legislator Anil Vij, who is trying his luck from his stronghold Ambala Cantonment. Outgoing Health Minister Vij was one of the top contenders for the Chief Minister’s post in 2014 when the BJP came to power on its own for the first time.
But not everything is as hunky-dory for the party as the BJP would like to project, say political observers.
Twelve of its legislators, including two ministers, were denied tickets, provoking fears of undercutting by the rejected ones. Its sitting legislator Randhir Kapriwas, who was denied the ticket from Rewari, has entered the fray as an Independent. He is posing the main challenge to Captain Ajay Singh Yadav’s son, Chiranjeev Rao, of the Congress, who is making his debut.
However, the face-saver for the BJP is that it has managed to mollify its rebel Gurugram legislator Umesh Aggarwal, who was denied the ticket.
Besides, unemployment, deteriorating law and order, mounting debt, and poor remunerative crop prices are the major roadblocks for Khattar getting a second stint.
The counting of votes on October 24 will decide the future of arch rivals Khattar and Hooda.