M A I N   N E W S

Haryana voters keep options close to heart
A.J. Philip
Tribune News Service

SUCCESSIVE Chief Election Commissioners beginning with Mr T.N. Seshan have made elections a lacklustre affair. Gone are the days of tastefully-done banners, multi-coloured giant posters, phantom-sized cutouts and huge hoardings.

During an extensive one-day tour of Haryana, this correspondent saw just one cutout and a few vehicles playing taped messages through the onboard public address systems. It was difficult to read the writings on the wall because there were no such writings.

Yet busybodies crowded election offices, sipping endless cups of tea and forcing peripatetic, but diabetic, outstation journalists out to get a feel of the elections to drink the sugary concoction. The crowds at these offices do not reflect the strength of the candidates concerned.

“Those who give better stuff attract better crowds” frankly admitted Mr Nirmal Anand, a campaign worker, in whose terminology “stuff” did not mean just tea. At the main office of the Indian National Lok Dal candidate from Naggal in Ambala, Choudhary Jasbir Malour, there were a large number of chairs all waiting to be occupied.

“It is too early for the workers to turn up”, explained Mr Amrik Singh, a driver who believed that Mr Malour would win because he was a Jat and the constituency had a sizeable presence of Jats, whether Hindu or Sikh.

It was difficult to believe that caste still mattered in an area where reformers like Swami Dayanand preached against casteism. In constituency after constituency, campaign managers discussed the strength of the castes to which the candidate belonged.

But for the unattached voters whom I accosted on the way, caste did not matter. They all seem to have made up their mind, no matter which leader addressed where.

Issues vary from place to place, rather person to person. For Mr Sushil Goyal, a cloth merchant and commission agent at Ambala Cantonment, who suffered when flood water entered his shop last year, the big issue is the failure of the Chautala Government to provide relief to the victims. “Mr Chautala came a few days after the water receded. He spent just five minutes with us and one and a half hours at the Circuit House”.

The merchant’s anger was palpable. The Circuit House is the one where Mrs Indira Gandhi was to have lunch the day she was assassinated. In the cantonment area, every building has a story to tell, most of them dating to the British period. Where else can you find a church where the benches in the pew have provision to keep the worshippers’ guns in position as they prayed?

For Mr Sudhir Windlas, a prosperous gold merchant, his vote is reserved for the one who would end the peculiar landholding system in Ambala. “The house we have owned for generations is on perpetual lease. But if I want to sell it, I will not get the “No Objection Certificate” from the authorities. Look at our plight, we bought Cecil Hotel in 1933 and started a school in its place but we have been slapped a notice for violating the law”

Whether the jeweller deserves sympathy or not, Mr Anil Vij, the bachelor who has been winning this seat as an independent, will have to pay a price for the support he gets from INLD, whose government he supported. But his supporters like Mr R.P. Gupta, who sells crockery items for a living and has accumulated over 1,000 books on the Gita and the Upanishads in his personal library, are not ready to leave him in the lurch.

In nearby Ambala City constituency, the Congress nominee, Mr Venod Kumar Sharma’s biggest handicap in the campaign is that he is an “outsider”. Mr Mohanlal, a BJP worker who shifted loyalty to the INLD, has a host of reasons to proffer for changing sides. “I get Rs 300 as old-age pension. No other government has done so much for development as that of Mr Chautala”. He would have continued in the same vein had he not been restrained.

“We seek votes in the name of Chautala, not Devi Lal” confessed Mr Lal. In other words, the huge statues of Devi Lal that dot the countryside as much as along the National Highways are unlikely to fetch any dividends for the INLD. Statues of Maharaja Agrasen, Sir Chhotu Ram, Bhagat Singh and Netaji Bose I saw pale before those of the grand patriarch of Haryana’s first family.

In Chautala’s own main election office at Narwana, the most prominent item displayed is a newspaper cutting of a survey conducted by a little known agency that predicts a hung assembly. His campaign managers had no clue that it was an admission of defeat even before the fight had concluded.

While they have no time for journalists, Chautala’s rival, Mr Randeep Singh Surjewala’s men even trace them out to offer Internet connection. One of them, Mr Rajesh Kithania, who “made enough money in business” so that he could devote time to social work finds his candidate “Prime Minister-material”. As he expounded on his theme, he had a tough time keeping at bay the urchins who wanted party flags from him so that they could play.

Haryanvis are pragmatic people. They don’t want to displease political parties. So it is not unusual to find flags of different parties fluttering from the same rooftop. They have their own terminology to explain certain political phenomena.

When Mr Suresh Saini, brother of the BJP candidate from Pehowa, calls the Congress nominee a “parachute candidate”, it only means the latter is an “outsider”. It was just six months ago that he joined the BJP but he was careful enough to hang portraits of Deendayal Upadhyaya, Bhagat Singh and Vande Matram to impress the Sangh followers.

“Ours is not a parachute candidate. Mr Harminder Singh Chatha, is no stranger having contested from here earlier. He was also a Speaker”, said his supporter and advocate, Mr Darshan Singh.

Mr Ravi Bhushan Garg of the BJP who contests against Mr Shamser Singh Surjewala in Kaithal knows how to get a good cutout made. “This is the only one we have in the whole constituency” said Mr Krishna Lal Sharma, an active RSS worker, who believes price rise and lack of availability of fertiliser and the river water issue would help him win against the septuagenarian Congress leader.

The night had fallen. The BJP candidate in Kurukshetra, Mr Gurdial Singh Saini, was going from door to door. Stricken by his conscience, he had resigned from the Lok Sabha when Mr Chandra Shekhar formed a government with the support of the Congress.

Mr Saini was followed by a group of cheering children. Days of campaigning had not dimmed his enthusiasm, though he had forgotten that slogan-shouting was not allowed after sunset. But then who bothers about such rules in elections?


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