Sunday, October 9, 2011

Very little for Congress to lose in Hisar

Team Anna is campaigning all out against the Congress in Hisar. But a look at the Hisar constituency reveals that the Congress in fact has very little to lose here. In 2009, while the Congress swept 9 out of 10 seats in Haryana, it still couldn’t win Hisar. Hisar has always belonged to Bhajan Lal – it’s his pocket borough so to speak – and now with his death leading to this by-election, it is obvious that his son Kuldip Bishnoi is the favorite to win the poll.

Let’s look at the poll results in 2009. The seat was won by Bhajan Lal who contested on his Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) ticket by winning 2.48 lac votes as against 2.41 lac votes won by the Indian National Lok Dal (Chautala’s party). The Congress had finished a poor 3rd with only 2.05 lac votes cast in its favor. In 2009, the BJP had got into an alliance with the INLD and had not contested on its own. The only other party that picked up a reasonable number of votes was the BSP – which got about 90K votes. Clearly then, even if the Congress loses this time around; it will hardly be a slap on its face by Team Anna.

This time around, the BSP has decided not to contest the Hisar seat. The BJP has changed alliances (!) and is now aligned with the Haryana Janhit Congress. Most of the dalits in Hisar (Valmikis) are likely to abstain rather than vote for the HJC-BJP party (they are anti-Brahmin and they see the BJP as a pro-Brahmin party) or the Congress (since the Congress is a pro-Jat party). The BJP is a relatively light weight party in Hisar but it hopes to transfer its few votes to the HJC and in turn gain hugely from the sympathy wave for Bhajan Lal after his demise.

The majority in Hisar is of the Jats and after the Mirchpur incident, the Jats are expected to consolidate in a larger number with the Congress as they think it has a better chance of beating the HJC-BJP combine. Should this happen, the Congress can expect to move up from the 3rd position to the 2nd position. If that happens, would Anna call his diatribe against the Congress a success or a failure? In my mind, success or failures are relative terms. For eg., Shah Rukh’s films are all expected to gross at least Rs 100 crores at the box office. That number would make almost any other film a “hit”, but for a SRK film to be called a hit, that number must be upwards of Rs 150 crores or so. Likewise, for Anna’s movement against the Congress to be called a success, the Congress must lose very badly – maybe stay at its 3rd position or even go down further. But if it does advance to the number 2 position, then Team Anna will have to concede defeat.

Some people are arguing that Anna has played a smart game by starting his campaign against the Congress in Hisar. As mentioned earlier, Congress is hardly a player in this constituency and is more likely to lose than win this seat. If it does lose the seat as expected, Anna may be tempted to take credit for it….though in reality it would be a little dishonest to do so. Some others argue that Anna has made a mistake by starting off with Hisar. The potential upsides are far lesser than the downsides. The Congress is unlikely to fall to the 4th position or so and if it doesn’t, it is likely to tell the world that Anna’s impact was highly exaggerated and his campaign showed that his movement did not have mass support. Is this why Anna is leaving a little room for himself by not traveling personally to Hisar? Is this why it is Arvind Kejriwal who is leading this battle against the Congress?

I find this entire Anna involvement in Hisar unacceptable. For one, the deal struck with all of Parliament was that the bill would be re-introduced in the winter session. That’s still a month away. Second, the matter is now with Parliament – and by singling out the Congress for his attacks, Anna is demonstrating some sort of a visceral dislike for the Congress. So much so that he is willing to give indirect support to Ajay Chautala of the INLD against whom a Delhi court has recently framed charges of disproportionate assets. Also his insistence on a “letter of support” is strange – especially after Parliament endorsed much more in the last session.

The real truth is that the by-election will still be an interesting one to watch. Irrespective of what the Congress may say, it must be feeling nervous about the election. Will a poll defeat (an almost certain outcome) put pressure on it in Parliament? Conversely, will a relatively stronger performance put some sort of pressure on Anna? We’ll know soon enough!

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