NATIONAL

Lok Sabha polls: multi-cornered contests likely in Haryana

CHANDIGARH, APRIL 24. Though all the major players have announced their nominees, the growing infighting in the Haryana unit of the Congress over selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections has made the picture hazy. With the Bharatiya Janata Party deciding to contest all the 10 seats after severing ties with the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), four-cornered — and even multi-cornered — contests seem likely in the May 10 elections. According to political observers, the outcome of the poll could be regarded as a mini-referendum on the INLD. The infighting in the Congress and the virtual revolt by prominent aspirants in Karnal and Faridabad, are nothing new. The verdict could have a significant bearing on the Assembly elections scheduled for February-March 2005. It may be mentioned that the veteran MP, Chiranji Lal Sharma, and his son, Kuldip Sharma, have raised a banner of revolt and the latter has decided to contest from Karnal as an Independent. A few district-level leaders have also resigned from the Congress and joined the ruling INLD.

Anti-incumbency factor

A tour of the Ambala, Kaithal, Jind, Bhiwani, Rohtak, Panipat and Karnal districts revealed that the anti-incumbency factor could play a crucial role in the elections and according to political circles, the Congress could win four to five seats by itself without making much effort. It is this factor which has prompted the political rivals of the former Chief Minister and Haryana Congress president, Bhajan Lal, to adopt the stance that his `presence' would not be required in their constituencies for campaigning. The opponents of Mr. Bhajan Lal, who has been regarded as a shrewd and wily non-Jat mass leader, are in an upbeat mood that he has been `cornered' in two ways. First, the high command has given ticket to only three nominees sponsored by Mr. Bhajan Lal. Secondly, he may confine himself to the Bhiwani constituency where his son is facing a tough battle. The BJP has virtually remained non-existent in Haryana after its heyday under the late Mangal Sein. It has thrived only after it tied up with a regional party. So far, there has not been any perceptible Vajpayee wave. And the fact that the BJP had to struggle to find nominees and its open efforts to rope in disgruntled aspirants from the Congress have exposed its real face, people say. However, it is being said that the BJP nominee in Sonepat, Kishan Singh Sangwan, could retain his seat, though with a narrow margin, as the Congress candidate, Dharampal Singh Malik, is said to be `weak.'

The electoral battles would become interesting with the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) besides some smaller parties, actively joining the fray. And the newly-floated Ekta Shakti could also upset many political calculations in Ambala, Karnal and Kurukshetra constituencies respectively from where the AICC secretary, Selja, the Minister of State for Home, I.D. Swami, and Abhey Singh Chautala, the younger son of the Chief Minister, are contesting.

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