Three Lok Sabha and 30 assembly constituencies in various states will go for by-polls tomorrow (30 October). Haryana’s Ellenabad is one of them.
Unlike other seats where the sitting legislator has passed away or resigned to make way for another person, the situation in Ellenabad is different where the previously elected Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) is contesting again simply to make a point.
If this doesn’t push us to move on some badly needed electoral reforms, one is not sure what will. Abhay Singh Chautala of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), son of former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala who recently got out of jail after completing his 10 year sentence in teacher recruitment scam, was elected from Ellenabad in 2019 assembly elections for the third time. His father who won this seat in 2009 had to resign an year later after his conviction and Abhay replaced him in the ensuing by-poll.
In January, he tendered his resignation as an MLA in support of the farmers who are agitating against the three farm laws enacted by the union government last year. He is in the fray again and wants to project his all but certain victory as the people’s mandate against the farm laws and also burnish his credentials as a champion of farmers.
Additionally, the goal is to take back the old INLD voter base which deserted the party lock stock and barrel in 2019 and went with Abhay’s nephew and current Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala who formed a new outfit Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) and is now part of the Haryana government as an alliance partner of the BJP.
While INLD was swept away by JJP’s emergence in most of its erstwhile strongholds, it retained Ellenabad, the lone seat won by the party in 2019. Now that the JJP and Dushyant are feeling intense heat from their mostly rural, peasant, Jat vote bank for supporting the farm laws, Abhay sees an opportunity to win back his old voters. Of course, the reason why most INLD voters left the party was as much because of Dushyant’s charismatic pull as it was due to Abhay’s attitude which repels.
The fact that JJP won 10 seats, basically snatching away all the old INLD strongholds, but couldn’t defeat Abhay in Ellenabad (it received only 6,500 odd votes compared to INLD’s 58,000) is quite telling of the reality of how much beholden this constituency’s voters still are to party’s patriarch Om Prakash Chautala.
The by-poll tomorrow is likely to reinforce this even though all attempts have been made to cast the election into some kind of all important referendum on farm laws. Though the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) - the united front of farmer organisations protesting against the farm laws - has made it official that it’s not supporting any party in Ellenabad but Rakesh Tikait’s statements in rallies can’t be construed as anything except a full hearted endorsement of Abhay.
“If a person left his bag with you six months ago and has come back to ask for it, give it to him,” he said to a gathering of voters day before yesterday (27 October). The person is Abhay and the bag is the constituency that he left earlier this year only to come back and claim it again now.
But one can understand the SKM’s hesitation in not openly backing INLD. Congress party is also in the fray. It has fielded Pawan Beniwal, the man who fought the 2014 and 2019 elections from here on BJP’s ticket and came second both times. He may not win but is still expected to put a good fight and may even come second. And since Congress and Bhupinder Singh Hooda are allies on the issue of farm laws, SKM doesn’t want to be seen openly supporting their electoral enemy - INLD.
The chances of a result apart from Abhay winning the seat again are very slim. He has won it from here thrice. Before that, his father was from here in 2009 and 1970. In 1967, the first election held after the formation of the state of Haryana, the winner was Om Prakash Chautala’s younger brother Pratap Chautala.
In 1968, OP Chautala made the debut but lost narrowly, an election he challenged in the Supreme Court and won. He won the bypoll held in 1970 and then again in 1972. From 1977 to 2009, the seat was reserved for SCs and Chautala family had to stay away from the constituency but barring 1991, it was always the Chautalas backed candidate that win from Ellenabad. That’s how tight the family’s hold over the constituency has been since Haryana’s formation 55 years ago.
Therefore, no one should be surprised at the result on 2 November.
The only thing to look out for is how much BJP’s non-Jat coalition is still intact. Given that both the INLD and Congress have fielded Jat candidates and Sikhs in the region will be backing either of them because of the farm laws, the number of votes BJP gets (mostly non Jats, non Sikhs) will be revealing of the impact of farmers agitation on caste lines.
However, the BJP has not covered itself in glory by loaning and fielding Govind Kanda, brother of notorious politician Gopal Kanda, an accused in Geetika Sharma and her mother’s suicide cases and someone who was arrested in 2012 and had to resign as Minister of State for Home in Hooda’s cabinet. He is currently MLA from Sirsa.
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