Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Hisar By-Poll and the Anna Effect

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 25 October, 2011,m retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/the-hisar-bypoll-and-the-anna-effect/326667.html)


NOTE: This piece contains very little opinion. It's a factual summary of the drama surrounding the by-elections in Hisar.





What should have been an insignificant election in one constituency became the focal point of national attention for several weeks. So, why was the Hisar by-poll so important?
By-elections are held to fill a post that has been vacated, usually because a sitting Member of Parliament (MP) has passed away, resigned or been recalled. In the case of Hisar, by-polls were announced after the seat’s MP, former Chief Minister (CM) and one-time Congress leader Bhajan Lal, died. Bhajan Lal had broken away from the Congress to form his own party, the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).
Of the 40 nominees, there were three main candidates for the seat – the Congress’ Jai Parkash (a former three-time MP), Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi (HJC, supported by BJP), Ajay Chautala – the son of former CM Om Prakash Chautala – from Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
But the most significant player may have been Anna Hazare. The Gandhian decided to campaign against the Congress, saying the ruling party at the Centre had failed to bring in the Jan Lokpal Bill for discussion within the stipulated time.
Why did Anna Hazare Campaign Against the Congress?
The Hisar by-elections were the first to be held after the standoff between Hazare and the government. After several discussions between ‘Team Anna’, as Hazare’s aides have been called, and government Ministers, Hazare ended his twelve-day fast, on the understanding that the Bill would be taken up for discussion as soon as possible.
When the Congress twiddled its thumbs, Hazare announced that the Hisar by-elections would be a people’s mandate on governance, and his team would take it upon themselves to send out a message that a party that had failed its people would be thrown out. Saying the Congress was not serious about tackling corruption, Hazare began to use the by-polls to build pressure on the party.
How did the Campaign Play Out?
Hazare’s second-in-command, Arvind Kejriwal, who is a native of Hisar, began to address people in open marketplaces, speaking out against the Congress.
The Congress tried to laugh this away, saying the election was not of national importance. But Team Anna capitalised on that point, saying it was an “insult to the voters of Hisar” that the party did not consider their opinion important.
The party reacted by shoving its foot back into its own mouth. Congress leader Digvijay Singh said that despite Hazare’s assertion that he is not into politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants him as the presidential candidate in 2012. Team Anna immediately turned the accusation around, saying they are “doing politics for the people” and not for the vote-bank.
The team denied association with the BJP, saying they would have campaigned against the saffron party if it had been in power and failed to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill. Kejriwal also issued something of an ultimatum to the Congress, saying Hazare would withdraw the campaign if the party passed the Jan Lokpal Bill the next day.
A video of Hazare asking the people to vote for any candidate of their choice, except the Congress contestant, was screened. Team Anna then told voters that the government wanted Hazare to die, and each of their votes would “act as a life breath” for the Gandhian.
The By-Election Results
By the time campaigning ended, on October 11, the Congress was stretched thin, fighting both the Anna effect and the other candidates. Polls were conducted two days later, and the results announced on October 17.
Kuldeep Bishnoi was declared the winner, with a lead of 6323 votes.  Ajay Chautala came second, while the Congress was a distant third – about 2,00,000 votes behind. Jai Parkash, who polled even fewer votes than he got in the 2009 elections, had to forfeit his security deposit.
What made the Congress’ defeat worse was that it was indicative of anti-party sentiment across the country. Aside from the Lok Sabha seat in Hisar, the ruling party was routed in three Assembly seats in other states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
In Maharashtra, the Congress’ ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), fielded Harshada Wanjale, the widow of Ramesh Wanjale, whose death necessitated the by-elections. But the alliance couldn’t win a sympathy vote.
In all, it was a shocker for the Congress, and deemed a bad sign for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) by political analysts.
Reactions
During his campaign, Bishnoi had called himself a fan of Anna’s, and a supporter of the team’s cause. However, right after his victory, he said he owed nothing to Team Anna, and that the people had already decided to vote in favour of him before Hazare announced his stance.  Bishnoi attributed his victory to his father, and to his party’s alliance with the BJP. But he did say he respects Hazare, and that he would vote for the Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had camped in Hisar for a fortnight to canvass for the Congress, said there was a need to introspect. He said he respected the verdict of the people.
But his fellow-Congressmen were not quite as tame in defeat. Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who heads the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee, claimed Bishnoi had won because of the sympathy vote, and questioned Team Anna’s silence on corruption in Mayawati-ruled Uttar Pradesh.
Law Minister Salman Khurshid came up with an even vaguer argument for his party, saying the poll results could not be attributed to a single person or single issue. He also said Team Anna had gone to Hisar “to have fun.”
The Congress has decided to pull all its weight ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections, with Rahul Gandhi set to participate in a series of yatras across the state.
The opinion of the Congress and of analysts was that while Anna Hazare’s campaign was not the main instrument in the defeat, it had played a role in boosting anti-Congress sentiment by grabbing national headlines.
However, Team Anna suffered losses too. Following the campaign, two of its members – Magsaysay Award winner Rajinder Singh and PV Rajagopal – bowed out of the team, saying it had taken on political shades, and they didn’t want to be involved.
Long-Term Impact
The loss in four states is a huge psychological setback for the Congress, since five states, including Uttar Pradesh – where Congress General Secretary and likely future Prime Ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi has been campaigning aggressively – are set to hold Assembly elections.
The UPA’s majority in the Lok Sabha will not be affected by state results. But then, allies of the ruling party could switch over to the Opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), headed by the BJP, if they lose faith in the Congress.
That would be very worrisome if the call for early general elections, in the wake of several scams involving Congress leaders and allies, is heeded.

TIMELINE

3 June
Sitting MP from Hisar, Bhajan Lal, dies following cardiac arrest.
6 September
Election Commission sets October 13 as the date for Hisar by-polls.
4 October
Anna Hazare announces that he will campaign against the Congress at Hisar.
8 October
Team Anna arrives in Hisar; Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia address gatherings, alleging the Congress isn’t passing the Jan Lokpal Bill for fear that many of its ministers would land in jail.
11 October
Campaigning ends in Hisar.
13 October
Polling  conducted in Hisar.
17 October
Kuldeep Bishnoi wins seat. Congress comes third.
18 October
Team Anna members Rajinder Singh and PV Rajagopal quit.


CONSTITUENCY PROFILE

Candidates: 40
Voters:  13.32 lakh
Men: 7.29 lakh

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