Since Haryana was carved out of Punjab in 64, its politics has been a family business dominated by the Lals, first Bansi, then Bhajan and now Devi. The forthcoming assembly elections promises to be no different. With the political fortunes of Bhajan and Bansi on the downswing, the crucial question voters will now answer is whether Devis son Om Prakash Chautala will hold his own against a divided Congress. As usual, the kith and kin of political heavyweights find themselves among the 976 candidates fighting for the 90 assembly seats. The state goes to the polls on February 22.
While the ruling Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Chautala has allied with the BJP, the other two parties in the reckoning, the Congress and the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), have decided to go it alone with support from local parties. Though Devi Lal has retired from active politics, son Chautala and grandsons, Abhay and Ajay, are INLD contestants. Chautala is contesting from Narwana and Rori, both Jat dominated constituencies. His main rival and predecessor, Bansi Lal, has reverted to his former parliamentary constituency, Bhiwani, in an effort to return to the state assembly here. His son, Surender, will contest from the family stronghold, Tosham.
Veteran Bhajan Lal is playing it safe by returning to his stronghold, Adampur, a seat whichs been held by his wife Jasma Devi, and son, Kuldip Bishnoi. His other son, Chander Mohan, is defending the Kalka seat. Much before elections were announced the fireworks began in the state. The state BJP led by Ram Bilas Sharma prevailed upon the high command to withdraw support to the Bansi Lals HVP. The Congress stepped in and propped up the HVP government. But even before the confidence vote, Bansi Lal quit as he said he couldnt go along with conditions set by Sonia Gandhi.
Next was an INLD government supported by the BJP. Initial problems apart, the two have struck a cohesive note and are sharing seats (61 to INLD and 29 to the BJP). Both Chautala and Sharma maintain their new friendship is based on solid political understanding. Observers say the Congress, which suffered in the last Lok Sabha elections, has itself to blame for its plight. By first supporting Bansi Lal and then withdrawing support it alienated itself from the masses.
Whatever the outcome, Haryana is ridden with corruption and, economically, is in the red. After Bansi Lals prohibition policy, Haryana is yet to recover from the financial losses it incurred during the "dry years". But even before the first vote is cast, indications are that local issues will continue to dominate proceedings.