Jind bypoll: Surjewala's defeat may ignite infighting in Haryana Congress, as supporters suggest 'sabotage' angle

About a month ago the Congress surprised everyone by deciding to field Randeep Singh Surjewala, its high profile head of communications department and a close confidant of Rahul Gandhi, as its candidate for Jind Assembly bypoll.

His candidature spiced up the election, which otherwise would have passed up as a routine bypoll. In all likelihood, the state Assembly will go to polls along with the upcoming parliamentary election. The schedule for both is expected to be announced in the next 30 days.

Under the circumstance, Surjewala landing in Jind, a Jat politics hotbed, was out of ordinary. More so because he was sitting MLA from Kaithal and as such it was one rare case where a sitting MLA was fielded as an MLA candidate from another constituency closing months of the term of that Assembly.

Jind bypoll: Surjewalas defeat may ignite infighting in Haryana Congress, as supporters suggest sabotage angle

File image of Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. PTI

Party protagonists and sympathisers then hailed this move as a masterstroke by Congress leadership. For them, Surjewala's stature in Congress was a sure ticket to victory, which would not just settle the vexed leadership issue in the party in Haryana, but also establish him as a future Jat leader. His hypothetical victory (which didn’t happen) was to be taken as an early forecast as to which way the state was going to behave in the upcoming parliamentary and assembly elections.

The result, which came out today declared BJP candidate Krishan Middha as victorious by securing 50,566 votes. The newly formed Jannayak Janata Party's candidate Digvijay Singh Chautala finished second with 37,631 votes and Surjewala finished a poor third with 22,740 votes.

Surjewala had filed his nomination on the last day on express instructions of Rahul Gandhi. He was left without an option. His rise in the party hierarchy and his ever-growing proximity was not liked by many in the party, sources said. Those who know him closely are now suggesting a "conspiracy" and "sabotage" angle. Rahul was convinced that Surjewala would be a trump card for the party in Jind and the outcome would be a defining moment. The outcome indeed is a defining moment in Haryana politics, but unfortunately for Congress, it has only negative points to count. "Ek Jhatke me Surjewala ko nita diya. Congress mein asli ladai toh ab suru hogi (In one single stroke, Surjewala was halted. The internal fight in Congress would peak now)," said a Surjewala supporter.

Let us now consider the implications of this bypoll result:

First, the ruling BJP has a reason to cheer. Coming close to the parliamentary and state elections, this would give a huge boost to the morale of BJP’s rank. In 2014, the BJP for the first time had formed a majority government of its own and now by winning this seat, that too in a strong Jat stronghold, it has somewhat proved that it has retained its non-Jat support base intact. Despite whatever criticism Manoharlal Khattar may have got, he could be well within his right to claim that he had popular endorsement — despite so may headline-grabbing Jat reservation movements and riots.

Second, Dushyant Chautala, the grandson of INLD chief and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala who was expelled from the party by the latter has established himself as the new Jat leader in Haryana. Dushyant, an MP, has the distinction of being elected as the youngest-ever member in the Lower House of the Parliament. After Om Prakash Chautala expelled him and his jailed father Ajay Chautala from the party, Dushyant formed his own party, JJP and fielded his brother Digvijay Chautala as a candidate from Jind. JJP may have lost the election, coming second, but the number of votes (37,631) it got is an indicator that he has the overwhelming support of the Jat community, particularly the younger community. As such Dushyant could claim to be a worthy political heir of his great grandfather Chaudhary Devilal.

Third, Om Prakash’s INLD political might and muscle could now be a thing of nostalgia. The party secured just over 3,000 votes, which is less than one-tenth the votes the party received in last Assembly Election. Remember, this seat had fallen vacant because its MLA from the seat Hari Middha had died. Hari's son Krishan joined the BJP and won.

Fourth, though Congress’ Surjewala lost the election and will have its bearing on his standing as a leader, its real pinch will be felt by party’s biggest leader in the state, a supposed Jat chieftain and chief minister for 10 years Bhupinder Singh Hooda. He had campaigned in Jind. So had other Congress leaders like Kumari Shailja and Kuldeep Bishnoi. But since this is a Jat-dominated area Hooda was supposed to make an impact. More so, because he was also campaigning for Surjewala, who too is a Jat, albeit perceived to be milder. But Bhupinder failed to make an impact. His fate, as also his son Deepender Singh Hooda (MP from Rohtak) is now widely speculated in Congress circles. Incidentally, Bhupinder as state Congress president had started his campaign in the run-up to 2004 (when he first became the chief minister) with a padyatra from Kandela village in Jind. In this election, Congress had failed to secure the good number of votes from that region.

This is sure to ignite a fresh round of infighting in the Congress and may impact its performance in the upcoming General Election to Lok Sabha. Ahead of the parliamentary election, the BJP would be happily watching the developments within Congress, INLD and JJP.

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Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 21:52:05 IST

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