May 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India
Fatehabad, May 10
Barring former Haryana Congress President Shamsher Singh Surjewala, all frontline party leaders remained absent (if not boycotted) from a meeting convened by former Chief Minister and party President Bhajan Lal to chalk out strategy and depute manpower for the crucial byelection here yesterday. The presidents of the block and district units, former MLAs, sitting MLAs and other senior leaders were invited to the meeting.
Among the notable absentees were Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former party President Birender Singh, All-India Congress Secretary Selja, who had thrice won the Sirsa Lok Sabha seat of which Fatehabad is a part, Chief Whip of the Haryana Congress Legislature Party (HCLP) Jai Prakash Barwala, Mr Ranjit Singh, a former Haryana Minister and younger son of former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal, and several MLAs, including Mr O.P. Jindal, Mr Shadi Lal Batra, Dr Raghbir Singh Kadian, Mr Jatinder Singh Malik and Mr Sher Singh.
It seems the anti-Bhajan Lal leaders in the Congress consider that it is not their party which is contesting the Fatehabad byelection but that of Mr Bhajan Lal. Party nominee Dura Ram is a nephew of Mr Bhajan Lal. A large number of second-rung leaders had turned up for the meeting.
The Congress is pitted in Fatehabad against the ruling Indian National Lok Dal(INLD) and the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), a repeat of the Yamunanagar assembly byelection scenario. If the party again finishes after the INLD and the HVP in Fatehabad, as it did in Yamunanagar, the Congress and its leaders are virtually doomed in Haryana and they should stop dreaming of coming to power in the next assembly elections due in 2005.
When asked about the absentee leaders, Mr Surjewala said newsmen should not compare the Congress with the INLD and the HVP, which, he said, were one-family parties. He said the Congress was a democratic party in which the people might have different perceptions and opinions.
He said the media described the Congress in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh also as a house divided but the party had been able to oust the ruling parties in the elections. He claimed in the general election, the Congress would replace the INLD in Haryana.
Mr Bhajan Lal said all senior Haryana Congress leaders would come to Fatehabad on May 15 when a public meeting would be addressed by two AICC General Secretaries, Mr Nawal Kishore Sharma and Mrs Mohsina Kidwai, along with former Union ministers, Mr Buta Singh and Mr Natwar Singh.
He said Congress nominee Dura Ram had written to the Election Commission that the district administration had declared only 148 polling booths out 181 booths as sensitive. He demanded the other booths should also be declared as sensitive and the paramilitary forces should be deployed in the constituency. He demanded a ban on the entry of Mr Ajay Singh and Mr Abhey Singh, sons of the Chief Minister, into the constituency.
Meanwhile, the district administration conducted a rehearsal for the polling staff yesterday. Deputy Commissioner R.B. Langyan said 90 per cent of the voters in the constituency had been provided with the voters’ identity cards. The others could also vote after proving their identity before the presiding officers.
The SP, Fatehabad, Mr K.K. Rao, said while 15 villages in the constituency were hyper-sensitive, 18 villages had been categorised as “sensitive”. He said every booth would be equipped with a wireless set. As many as five DSPs, 12 inspectors, 22 sub-inspectors, 140 ASIs, 367 head constables and 1228 constables would be put on security duty.
The Dismissed Police Employees Union criticised the police lathi charge on the agitating retrenched employees of the Haryana Minor Irrigation and Tubewell Corporation here a few days ago. The union also decided to support the Congress nominee.
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