Tuesday, May 20, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Fatehabad campaigning ends
Yoginder Gupta and Sushil Manav
Tribune News Service

Fatehabad, May 19
The Fatehabad Assembly constituency, scheduled to go for a byelection on May 21, seems to be poised for a triangular contest among the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Congress and the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), as the campaigning came to an end at 5 p.m. today. The CPM is, of course, trying to make the contest four-cornered.

With the three main political parties in the contest projecting the byelection as an indicator of who will form the government in Haryana in the next Assembly elections, their candidates have been relegated to the shadows of the three famous “Lals of Haryana” — Mr Om Prakash Chautala (synonym of Mr Devi Lal), Mr Bhajan Lal and Mr Bansi Lal. The votes are being sought in the names of the party leaders and their performance. This has naturally raised the stakes very high for the three “Lals”, who have campaigned extensively as well as intensively.

While Mr Chautala and Mr Bansi Lal are being assisted by their sons, Mr Bhajan Lal is carrying the cross single-handedly. His younger son, Kuldip Bishnoi, had to leave the campaigning midway, when his mother, Mrs Jasma Devi, reportedly developed some serious eye ailment. Both have rushed to the USA for an emergency treatment. Mr Bhajan Lal’s elder son, Mr Chander Mohan, is helping his father. But Fatehabad has never been his field of work.

The INLD is oozing with confidence of retaining the seat, which fell vacant when sitting MLA Leela Krishan died at Shimla on March 27. But the party is not taking any chances. The INLD supremo and Chief Minister, Mr Chautala, despite being injured, visited the constituency in the last two days of campaigning.

The HVP and the Congress termed the Chief Minister’s second visit to the constituency as a “sign of nervousness” on the part of the ruling party.

Addressing the last public rally of the party here today, Mr Bansi Lal said it was very rare that a Chief Minister twice visited a constituency in a byelection. He accused the INLD of terrorising the voters. He quoted at length a Parliamentary publication to deny the allegation levelled by Mr Chautala that he (Mr Bansi Lal) had opposed the creation of Haryana. He claimed that it was because of his advocacy the Haryana was carved out as a separate state instead of being merged with Rajasthan and Delhi. “At that time, Mr Devi Lal was nowhere on the scene,” he added.

For the INLD, the success in the byelection means a seal of approval on its policies. For the HVP, the success will signify that its performance in the Yamunanagar byelection, where it relegated the Congress to the third position, was not a stroke of luck. For the Congress, rather for Mr Bhajan Lal personally, success in Fatehabad will ensure an unchallenged position for him in the party. The way the leaders opposed to him in the Haryana Congress have kept themselves away from the campaigning, the byelection has become a contest between Mr Bhajan Lal and the other parties. Naturally, the success here will be his personal.

But that may not be the case in reverse, if the Congress nominee fails to win the seat. Mr Bhajan Lal played his cards well by initially refusing to nominate any member of his family as the party candidate from here. It was left to the anti-Bhajan Lal leaders to recommend his nephew’s candidature from here. The party high command also agreed with these leaders. In case of failure, which the Congress leaders consider “unlikely” Mr Bhajan Lal can always claim that he was able to put up a respectable fight despite non-cooperation from the other factions of the party.

A shopkeeper at Bhirdana village, having a mixed population, remarked that whichever party finished second, would form the government in the state in the next Assembly elections. Of course, he was presuming that the ruling party would emerge victorious.

The HVP did remarkably well in campaigning. Starting virtually from a scratch (its candidate polled 1,568 votes in 2000), the vigorous campaigning by a team of dedicated workers led by Mr Surender Singh, son of Mr Bansi Lal and secretary-general of the party, has brought the party among the first three.

The Congress has the solid support of a big chunk of the Bishnoi vote, which number about 13,000. Despite an aggressive campaign by the ruling party in the Bishnoi belt, it has not been able to make any serious inroads into the Congress bastion.

Meanwhile, a press note issued by the district administration has created confusion among workers of various political parties. The press note says that “all those who have come to Fatehabad from outside to create mischief will be identified and sent outside the Constituency. The police will check all dharamshalas, hotels and dhabas so that no anti-social element takes shelter there”.

The Congress and the HVP leaders alleged that the order was meant to harass their workers so that the INLD would have a free hand on the polling day. While the HVP spokesman, Mr Rajiv Jain, said the party would defy the order and would not sent its workers out of Fatehabad, the Congress spokesman, Mr Krishan Murti Hooda, demanded that first of all the administration should debar the entry of the MLA son of the Chief Minister, Mr Abhey Singh Chautala, into Fatehabad on the polling day.

However, the Chief Minister appealed to his party workers to leave the constituency by this evening. He said the election would be managed by the local workers. He said since the use of the electronic voting machines would provide the boothwise data of the votes polled by various parties, he would honour those workers at whose booths the INLD would perform better than its rival parties.

Mr Bhajan Lal and Mr Bansi Lal separately met the Election Commission observer, Mr Rama Raman, today and urged him to ensure a free and fair poll.

Meanwhile, BJP workers here are in a quandary. While the party’s former MLA from here, Mr Balbir Choudhry, is working for the INLD, another senior party leader, Mr P.K. Choudhry, has urged the partymen to vote for a candidate who can defeat Mr Chautala’s nominee.

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