Jind bypoll fires up Haryana politics

Agency | January 15, 2019 01:35 PM

CHANDIGARH: It could have been just another routine by-election but the Jind assembly seat in Haryana has turned into a political battlefield for all major parties to test the waters on which way the wind is going to blow in the coming months.

Voting takes place on January 28 and whosoever wins the seat will be elected for just around nine months. This is because the term of the present Haryana assembly ends on November 2.

Yet, the by-election has become an all-important event for everyone -- be it the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Congress and the newest player in state politics, the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). This is because parliamentary elections are about 3-4 months away and the next assembly polls are to be held in October.

The seat fell vacant when INLD legislator Hari Chand Middha, who twice won from Jind, passed away last August.

The Congress, and more so its president Rahul Gandhi, can be credited with making the Jind bypoll, which otherwise would have been a fight between the BJP on one side versus the rest, a very interesting election by fielding his close confidant and the party's national spokesman, Randeep Surjewala.

By doing so, Gandhi has not only stirred up Haryana's politics but the highly-factionalised Congress party in Haryana as well.

When Surjewala filed his nomination on January 10, the entire top brass of the Congress leadership -- from former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, leader of the Congress in the assembly Kiran Chaudhary, state Congress president Ashok Tanwar, and former Union ministers Selja and Kuldeep Bishnoi (former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal's son), were present in strength.

Surjewala, who is the incumbent Congress legislator from the adjoining Kaithal assembly seat and has been a cabinet minister in Haryana, himself may have been reluctant to get into the contest in Jind but did not seem to have been offered any options by his party president.

"Our (Congress) win on this seat will set the tone for the forthcoming elections," Surjewala, who is a political heavyweight in the area, said.

Though he has been put centre-stage in the Jind bypoll by his party, Surjewala is facing the fire from the BJP, INLD and the JJP.

"We have seen legislators contesting Lok Sabha polls and vice versa or people contesting from two seats simultaneously but we have never seen a sitting legislator contest another assembly seat. This is quite strange," Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has been heading the first BJP government in Haryana since October 2014, quipped.

Senior BJP minister Ram Bilas Sharma was caught on camera on Jan 10 taking a dig at Hooda by saying "your thorn (Surjewala) has been removed". Surjewala is seen as a possible contender for chief ministership against Hooda if the Congress returns to power.

The BJP has played its cards well for this by-election by nominating Krishan Middha, the late INLD legislator's son. Despite a wave in its favour in October 2014 when it romped home to form a government for the first time on its own in Haryana, the BJP had been unsuccessful in Jind.

The INLD, which is trying to regain the seat under the leadership of Abhay Singh Chautala, has put its weight behind Khap leader Umed Singh Redu.

"We will teach a lesson to all the contesting parties. The INLD will win this seat again," Abhay Chautala claimed.

New entrant JJP, which has emerged after a split in the INLD, has jumped into the fray by fielding a strong candidate in Digvijay Chautala, great-grandson of former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal. Digvijay is the grandson of INLD chief O.P. Chautala and a nephew of Abhay Chautala.

The JJP will surely cut into the INLD votebank.

"We have the strength and the commitment to win this election. The people, especially the youth, are with us," Digvijay said.

Thus, the Jind constituency, which has a substantial chunk of scheduled caste and backward classes votes (around 50 per cent) and Jats (around 25 per cent) in its 1.7 lakh electorate, is in for an interesting contest.

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