The electorate in Haryana returned a verdict of not giving clear majority to any party even though the ruling Congress, which had gone in for early polls, remained the single-largest party winning 40 of the 90 seats while the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of the Chautala clan garnered 31, the newly-floated Haryana Janhit Congress(HJC) six, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) four, the Bahujan Samaj Party one, the Shiromani Akali Dal one and Independents seven seats. The Congress is technically five seats short of getting a simple majority in the House.

The question being asked in political circles is whether the Congress will stake its claim to form the next government with the “support’” of other parties and Independents.

Senior Congress leaders, who had exuded confidence that the party would repeat its outstanding performance in the recent Lok Sabha elections when it won nine out of 10 seats and even improve upon its tally of 67 seats it had got in the 2005 Assembly elections thanks to a fragmented opposition, were shell-shocked at the verdict.

However, they put up a brave face and asserted that the Congress had got the mandate to rule Haryana for a second successive term albeit with a reduced majority. They indicated that the Congress, led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, would easily secure majority with the support of Independents, many of whom were Congress rebels.

While admitting that his party’s performance was not as expected, Mr. Hooda asserted that the Congress was all set to form the next government in the State.

It was being said that the Congress leadership could also try to win over the HJC, headed by the former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi, which was in fact an offshoot of the Congress. Mr. Bishnoi won from Adampur while his mother Jasma Devi lost to Congress nominee Sampat Singh in Nalwa. It may be recalled that Mr. Lal and his son had left the Congress in 2007 after they were “sidelined.” Mr. Bishnoi’s alliance with the BSP had proved to be short-lived.

But according to reports reaching here, Mr. Bishnoi was not in favour of extending support to any group.

The INLD chief and former Chief Minister Om Parkash Chautala, who was in an upbeat mood after winning both the Uchana Kalan (where he defeated senior Congress leader and strong Chief Ministerial aspirant Birender Singh) and Ellenabad seats, told journalists here that the Congress should bow out of the race, gracefully accepting the verdict.

He asserted that the INLD would stake its claim to form the government with the support of other parties, including the BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which won the Kalanwali seat, and the HJC, besides Independents.

According to a close aid of Mr. Chautala, the BJP, which had broken its alliance with the INLD on the eve of the polls, could extend support to its former alliance partner to cobble up a simple majority in the House to prevent a Congress regime from coming to power.

A senior Congress leader said on condition of anonymity that the party would have to introspect as to why it could not muster a comfortable majority as was widely expected. He added that the delay in announcing party candidates, the fielding of some sitting MLAs against whom there was localized anti-incumbency at work, the impact of price rise on the voter, and a general ‘misreading’ about the strength of the Opposition were some of the major factors that needed to be analysed.

Leaders maintained that there was no anti-incumbency against the Hooda government as such and the fact that the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party clearly indicated that the people had appreciated the “development agenda” of the Congress.