Hooda faces acid test in bypoll against Chautalas

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Monday, January 18, 2010

ELLENABAD - Tucked away in a remote corner of Haryana, close to the state’s boundary with Rajasthan, the dusty constituency of Ellenabad is shaping up for one of the biggest battles of Haryana’s politics on Jan 20.

The fight in Ellenabad in Sirsa district, where a by-election is scheduled for Wednesday, has a lot at stake for Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his Congress party and for the main opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and its leader and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

While Chautala’s younger son Abhey Singh is in the fray as the INLD candidate, the by-election is the first political test for Hooda after he took over the reins of the state for a second time after the assembly polls last October.

Abhey is pitted against Bharat Singh Beniwal of the Congress. Though there are 15 candidates in the fray, the main contest is between the INLD and the Congress.

“Although Abhey and Beniwal are the candidates, the fight here is between (Om Prakash) Chautala and Hooda,” local resident Suresh Kumar told IANS.

The Congress, however, seems to be on the backfoot as the by-poll has come at a time of spiralling price rise, and the INLD is fully cashing in on this.

The seat fell vacant after the resignation of Om Prakash Chautala, who was elected from here in the Oct 13 elections. The former chief minister, who contested for both the Uchana Kalan and Ellenabad assembly seats, preferred to give up the Ellenabad seat that falls in their home district of Sirsa. He had won the seat by 16,400 votes.

The Ellenabad seat, which got de-reserved last year after many years, has been a stronghold for the Chautalas and their party. Only once, in 1991, the Congress had won the seat. The INLD is confident that the seat’s political history will go with the party.

“We will win this seat by a bigger margin than in the October assembly poll,” a confident Om Prakash Chautala said.

But Hooda is not letting the seat go without a fight. Top Congress leaders, led by Hooda and his ministers have been camping here for over two weeks to ensure victory for the Congress candidate.

“The INLD will lose this seat. Voters of the area know what the Chautalas have done,” said Hooda, who has to prove his hold after the Congress fared well below its expectations — securing only 40 seats in the 90-member house– in the October assembly polls.

The Congress managed to rope in numbers in the assembly by getting the support of all Independent legislators and five defectors from Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), who joined its ranks, taking its strength to 45.

The INLD, which won 31 seats in the assembly elections, now has 30 legislators in the house after Chautala resigned the Ellenabad seat.

While a victory on this seat will mean that the Congress will have a simple majority in the 90-member assembly with 46 legislators, the INLD and Chautalas also have a political point to prove by winning here while being in opposition.

Other major parties like the HJC, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) have not fielded their candidates for this bye-election here. Out of the 15 candidates in the fray, 11 are independents.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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