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The Hisar Bye-elections: Myth and Reality

Caste polarisation - a retrograde development in Haryana politics - and negative perceptions of the Congress government's governance in the state were the key reasons for the defeat of the ruling party candidate in the recently held parliamentary bye-elections in Hisar in October 2011. Unlike what the electronic media projected it to be, the much touted anti-corruption issue and the Anna Hazare campaign were barely relevant factors.

COMMENTARY

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The Hisar Bye-elections: Myth and Reality

Ranbir Singh

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The reality is that the results were attributed to reasons of sympathy for the Bhajan Lal family and other political factors, explained below. During Bhajan Lal’s tenure as chief minister from 1979-86 and 1991-96, the Hisar district had received priority over others in matters of develop-

Caste polarisation – a retrograde development in Haryana politics

– and negative perceptions of the Congress government’s governance in the state were the key reasons for the defeat of the ruling party candidate in the recently held parliamentary bye-elections in Hisar in October 2011. Unlike what the electronic media projected it to be, the much touted anti-corruption issue and the Anna Hazare campaign were barely relevant factors.

Ranbir Singh (rgsipr_cd@yahoo.in) retired from the department of political science in Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana.

K
uldeep Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine managed a narrow win (by over 6,000 votes) over the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate Ajay Chautala in the recently held parliamentary bye-elections in Hisar constituency in Haryana. The ruling Congress Party’s candidate Jai Parkash managed only a distant third position and even lost his deposit, giving weight to the main talking point – especially in the electronic media – that the anti-corruption campaign by the Anna Hazare-led civil society team had played a decisive role in these elections.

Reality

That this was a myth was clear, as Jai Parkash was relatively the least corrupt of the three main candidates, despite having been the chief of the “green brigade” between 1987 and 1989. He would have won the elections hands down if the issue of corruption was key in the elections. Instead the victor was Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of longtime and erstwhile Congressman Bhajan Lal who was well known as a politician who engineered the art of defections in Haryana elections and the runner-up was Ajay Chautala against whom charges in a case of alleged possession of property disproportionate to his known sources of income were framed.

november 12, 2011

ment and recruitment to government jobs; a factor that helped generate sympathy for his son, Bishnoi. Bhajan Lal had passed away in June 2011.

The alliance with the BJP was also beneficial as despite the latter’s narrow base in the district, the combine provided an alternative to non-Jat voters who wanted to ensure the defeat of the INLD – perceived mainly as a party of the Jats.

Infighting among the Congress Party was yet another contributing factor for Bishnoi’s win as Jai Parkash’s candidature was not accepted by dissident leaders of the party apart from local rank and file. This was substantiated by the fact that there was a negative swing even in the six assembly segments – Uklana, Hansi, Barwala, Hisar, Nalwa and Bawani Khera

– held by the Congress Party (Table 1).

Table 1: Segment-wise Swings in Hisar By-Poll

Name of the Segment HJC INLD Congress (I)
Uchana Kalan 11.81 03.71 -15.53
Adampur 07.05 06.53 -13.57
Uklana 05.85 04.91 -10.76
Narnaul 06.58 04.83 -11.44
Hansi 03.23 09.40 -12.64
Barwala 07.01 03.23 -10.24
Hisar 10.39 05.52 -15.89
Nalwa 05.87 07.80 -13.67
Bawani Khera -04.52 07.91 -03.39

Computed from the figures on the segment-wise votes poll by HJC, INLD and Congress(I) in 2009 Lok Sabha Election and 13 September 2011 by-poll given in the press reports.

vol xlvi no 46

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

This happened even in the Hansi assembly segment, where the Congress member of legislative assembly had defected from the HJC. The swing was the highest in Uchana Kalan, a traditional stronghold of dissident leader Birender Singh and a seat held by INLD supremo, O P Chautala.

The dismal performance of the Congress might also be a fallout of the Mirchpur incidents featuring atrocities against dalits in 2010. The negative swing against the Congress in Narnaul segment which included Mirchpur village was 11.44%. Dalits are a sizeable number in all the assembly segments in Hisar and it appears that there has been a significant drop in their votes for the Congress, a party that has been favoured by them in the past.

The agitation by the Jat community for reservations also seems to have an adverse impact in the constituency for the Congress. The loss of close to 10.24% vote share in Barwala can be attributed to agitations by the Jat Arakshan Samiti. In January 2011, a police firing had led to the death of a Jat youth in Mayyar village in this segment.

Lastly and most importantly, the Congress was hit hard by the polarisation of the non-Jat voters in favour of the HJC-BJP combine candidate due to the factors which have already been mentioned. In the non-Jat dominated segments of Adampur, Hansi and Hisar, vote swing against the Congress was 13.57, 12.64 and 15.89% respectively.

It may therefore be concluded that caste-based polarisation played a decisive role in shaping the outcome of the Hisar by-poll. It was the success of the HJC-BJP combine in emerging as a credible alternative to the INLD that ensured its win and conversely polarised Jat voters in favour of the latter.

Caste Polarisation

This leads us to the question: how does one explain this retrograde development of caste polarisation? The present Congressled government of Haryana should be blamed for the phenomenon because of its mishandling of the Mirchpur and the Mayyar incidents. But the real causes are very deep-rooted. This is, in fact, the logical culmination of the paradox of economic development at a time of social decay which has been created by the failure of the successive political dispensations to give due attention to cultural development in the state. The leaders of the Congress, INLD, BJP, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the HJC will have to squarely share the blame as all of them have been using caste as an agency for garnering votes. The fact of the matter is that Haryana does not have an effective political party based on ideology and a cadre-based organisation. Political families dominate, deeply entrenched in the state’s neo-feudal society at all levels. It is in this sociocultural and political context in which the outcome of Hisar by-poll has to be seen. It cannot be explained by the role of the “Anna Hazare factor” and the issue of corruption which were conspicuous by their absence in all the assembly segments except the urban and semi-urban ones in Hisar and Hansi. And even there, these issues only had a marginal role.

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november 12, 2011 vol xlvi no 46

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