Kashmir Plank Falls Flat, Haryana Polls may Spring a Surprise

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People at Congress rally in Haryana

Abdul Bari Masoud | Caravan Daily

MAHENDRAGARH, (HARYANA) – “Hamey kiya Kashmir main plot khareednaa hai?”(Do we have to buy land in Kashmir?). This caustic remark, made by Balbir Singh, a tea vendor in Mahendragarh town in Haryana, reflects that Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rashtrawad (nationalism) plank it was expecting in the light of abrogation of Article 370 in the neighbourinng sate has failed to whip up support for the ruling party in this agrarian state.

The Assembly elections for the northern state along with Maharashtra on October 21 may spring surprise provided that they are held in free and fair manner. Out of the blue, Congress may bounce back to power. The party had failed to win even a single parliamentary seat in the May 2109 general election.

From educated urban youths to voters from rural hinterland, all are yearning for change. This correspondent felt groundswell against the party in power while interacting with a cross section of the people in both urban and rural areas of the state. Anti- incumbency wave seemed to be sweeping every segment of the society.

When reminded about Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking vote in the name of Kashmir, tea vendor Balbir said what happened there is not going to eliminate the miseries of the people in the state. His views were shared by many others reflecting a general refrain among the people of Haryana that the (BJP-led) government has done nothing in the last five years.

Farmers discussing elections in Haryana

Parmal Singh, another respondent, said in the parliamentary elections people voted to the BJP in the wake of Pulwama attack and Balakot airstrike. But this time around, he said the nationalism plank can’t work in this election as it has lost its relevance.

Concurring with Parmal’s views, a fellow traveller, Hari Singh, pointed out that in the name of development, not a single work had been done by this government.

“You can see for yourself potholed roads everywhere. Despite being represented by Ram Bilas Sharma, the second most powerful cabinet minister in the Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Government, the constituency bears no trace of development. Even the road leading to the residence of Sharma is full of potholes, Hari Singh explained.

Vipin Shaukin, 28, an educated youth, supports the revocation of Article 370 but is in no mood to vote for the ruling party this time. He told Caravan Daily that the rising unemployment rate is a major issue in the ensuing elections. He used to run a real-estate business which crashed in the aftermath of demonetisation.

Article 370 won’t provide us bread and butter, he said adding “People are dying due to joblessness. Like me, thousands of youths are facing dire future in the absence of job opportunities as hundreds of small-scale industrial units are closed in the last five year.”

The voter’s mood in the state can be gauged from the Mahendragarh seat which is considered a bell-weather constituency. It is part of the Ahirwal region where Yadavs are dominant with 75, 000 out of 1.90 lakh voters. In the 2014 elections, Ram Bilas Sharma, a Brahmin, was elected by a margin of 40, 000 votes defeating Congress candidate Rao Daan Singh, a Yadav. Sharma is once pitted against Singh as a rival contender.

People told Caravan Daily that many powerful ministers in the Manohar Lal Khattar‘s cabinet faced the ire of public but the media chose not to report these incidents. They say cabinet ministers, Om Prakash Dhankar, and Anil Vij, were barred from entering many villages by the people.

Besides rising unemployment, stray cattle (cow and its progeny) is a major issue for the farmers and common people. Seventy-year-old Rameshwar Dayal, a farmer, said stray cows and bulls have become a menace in the area ever since this government came to power. The cattle not only destroy crops but also block traffic. Earlier, we used to sell them to Mewat (a predominantly Muslim locality), but now there is nobody to buy them.

Seconding his views, another old farmer, Bhaagmal, rued that his millet crop was almost destroyed by these stray cows.

“I was expecting 40 quintals of produce but only got six quintals losing the rest to the grazing stray cattle,” he said and mocked at the so-called cow vigilantes, who, he said had all become devata (gods) in the eyes of the people at the cost of farmers.

When asked about the incidents of lynching, they said during the Congress regime, Muslims used to transport cattle without any permission. But now, the permission is mandatory for them. Only a Congress government can solve this problem, they observed.

The ruling BJP is facing a tough battle in Jat-dominated central Haryana, Muslim-dominated southern part of the state, the areas adjoining Delhi. Some BJP leaders who have been denied ticket are also putting up roadblocks in the way of its ‘mission 75’.

Sensing anti-incumbency sentiments in the state, the party has intensified its election campaigning by increasing rallies of the Prime Minister Modi. A number of Central ministers have also been asked to camp in each assembly segment. However, Khatter denied that there was any anti-incumbency against his government. The incumbent chief minister said there’s no challenge to the ruling BJP from the Opposition, be it the Congress, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) or its offshoot, the Jannayak Janta Party in the polls.

However, Dr Yoganand Shastri, a former minister in Delhi government, said the BJP tried to make Article 370 its poll plank in Haryana but failed. In the general elections, the nationalism card coupled with anti-Jat polarisation formula worked in its favour. But this time around, people are not getting into the trap.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed two rallies in Nuh and Mahendragarh which witnessed a reasonably good turnout. The sudden turnaround was not anticipated by the Congress earlier. But now, Dr Shastri told Caravan daily, it expects to win 40 to 50 seats out of the 90 assembly seats in the state.

Unemployment rate at 28.7% is very high in Haryana. It is almost four times higher than that of the national average, he added.

The Congress has promised a monthly allowance to the unemployed graduates and postgraduates to the tune of Rs 7,000 to Rs 10,000 while INLD has promised Rs 1,500 to every unemployed youth. The Opposition parties have made farm debts, crop insurance, faulty implementation of GST and amendment to the Motor-Vehicle Act as their election issues while the BJP is trying to sell article 370 as Haryana tops in population-to-army officer ratio in the Indian Army.

In the 2014 assembly election, the BJP dislodged the Congress from power by securing 47 seats against the 15 and 19 seats bagged by the Congress and the INLD respectively.

There are three Muslim MLAs in the present assembly elected from Muslim-dominated region of Mewat. This time, the saffron party has given tickets to two sitting Muslim legislators, Zakir Husian and Raees Khan, who recently joined the party. Muslims account for more than 7 percent of the population and play a significant role in at least a dozen seats in the state.

Caste is also a dominant factor in the state politics. Jats are numerically the largest group after Dalits who account for around 25 percent of the state population. By appointing a Dalit woman, Kumari Shelja, as the state party president, the Congress is trying to wean away Dalits, who have been at the receiving end in the present regime, from the BSP.

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