Ellenabad by-election a test of farmers’ ballot power

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Chautala had then also won from Uchana seat, due to which he resigned from the Ellenabad seat and in the 2010 by-election it was won by Abhay…reports  AMARPAL SINGH VERMA

All eyes are on Saturday’s by-elections in Haryana’s Ellenabad constituency, which has emerged as a prestige issue for the three main political parties in the fray – the ruling BJP, the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

The biggest and most emotive issue in the election is the farmers’ agitation sparked by the passage of three contentious farm laws in late 2020. Haryana’s farmers are among those taking an active part in the movement and resentment against the BJP has been brewing ever since.

Whether the saffron party wins or loses Ellenabad will not affect Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar government, but the election has become a prestige issue for the BJP, and the state machinery is employing its full force to win the seat. For the Congress and INLD, the by-election has become a question of survival with dignity.

A total of 19 candidates are in the fray, of which 11 are Independents, but the main contest is believed to be between the INLD, Congress and BJP.

Candidates in slugfest

The political atmosphere in the state is already charged.

Among the heavyweights is INLD’s Abhay Singh Chautala, who resigned from the state Assembly early this year in protest against the agricultural laws. Taking on him from the Congress is Pawan Beniwal, while the BJP has fielded Govind Kanda after inducting him into the party.

Traditionally, the Ellenabad seat in Sirsa has been the stronghold of former Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Devi Lal. Abhay, his grandson and son of the former chief minister and INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala, was victorious here in the 2019 elections when he defeated Beniwal, then in the BJP.

Abhay’s resignation from the seat is what led to the by-election here. While he is standing again from the INLD, his rival Beniwal switched to the Congress a few days before the announcement of the election date.

All parties campaigned diligently for their candidates from village to village, though flags and banners are not visible due to the fear of the Election Commission. In his rallies, Abhay campaigned against the agricultural laws and alleged scams during the rule of the Khattar government in Haryana, while Beniwal spoke about the lack of development in the state. BJP’s Kanda assured the electorate of all-around progress.

Former CM Chautala is not leaving any stone unturned for the victory of son Abhay. He is visiting dozens of villages every day seeking support. On the other hand, the entire Haryana government is working to take BJP candidate Kanda to the finish line. State BJP president Om Prakash Dhankar, all ministers, MLAs, and chairmen of Khattar government corporations and boards are scouring the villages of Ellenabad in their bid for victory.

In the Congress, leaders including state president Kumari Selja and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, are making efforts to ensure a win.

Odds of victory

All three candidates have their pros and cons.

The Ellenabad seat has long been dominated by the Chautala family, and in 11 of 15 previous elections, a member of the family or a candidate of their choice has won.

In the 1970 by-election here, Om Prakash Chautala became the MLA. From 1977 to 2005, the seat was reserved for the Scheduled Castes. In this time, Bhagiram, who was close to the Devi Lal family, won from here five times. After delimitation in 2009, the seat was declared for the general category, after which Chautala senior became the MLA.

Chautala had then also won from Uchana seat, due to which he resigned from the Ellenabad seat and in the 2010 by-election it was won by Abhay.

In 2014 and 2019, Abhay won again by defeating Beniwal. Now Abhay is in the fray here for the fourth time and is confident of the support of the farmers and Jats who are agitating against the BJP government.

Yet, the challenges before him are no less.

By winning from Ellenabad in 2019, Abhay was able to register his presence as the lone MLA of INLD in the 90-member Haryana Assembly, all thanks to infighting in the Chautala family.

One of Abhay’s rivals has turned out to be his own nephew, Dushyant Chautala, son of Omprakash Chautala’s elder son Ajay. Dushyant is currently the deputy chief minister of Haryana – a post he got by forming a joint government with the BJP on the strength of ten MLAs from his Jannayak Janata Party.

Abhay has to thus face not only the Congress-BJP candidates but also the supporters of his nephew, a participant in the rival Khattar government. If Abhay wins, then it will give new strength to INLD in Haryana, but in case of defeat, the future of the party will be in question.

There are also strengths and weaknesses associated with Congress’s Pawan Beniwal.

In Ellenabad, Beniwal’s uncle, former MLA Bharat Beniwal, had been contesting elections on a Congress ticket. But this time the party gave his ticket to the nephew – which did not go down well with Bharat. The Congress high command has so far persuaded Bharat to remain in the party fold, but fears of rebellion remain.

On the pro side, Pawan Beniwal’s biggest advantage is that he is a Jat and the Congress is banking on him to get votes from the farmers as well as the Jats. The majority of Ellenabad’s nearly 2 lakh voters stay in villages and according to estimates, 37 per cent of voters are from the Jat community, with Jat Sikhs making up 7 per cent of the voters.

BJP on backfoot

The BJP in Ellenabad is facing the displeasure of farmers, who threw out party candidate Kanda and other leaders from the local gurdwara. Even in villages, farmers are raising slogans against the party. The United Kisan Morcha has taken out a Kalash Yatra with the ashes of the farmers killed in Lakhimpur Kheri to different villages in Ellenabad. So the farmers are leaving no stone unturned to make BJP’s path to victory here difficult.

The majority of Jat votes are likely to be divided between Abhay and Beniwal. In such a situation, the BJP is trying hard to get its candidate to win by mobilising non-Jat voters. Govind’s elder brother Gopal Kanda, former Minister of State for Home in Haryana, has also jumped on the campaign ground with full strength.

Palaram Jat, a farmer from Dholpaliya village, admitted to the impact of the farmer agitation on the Ellenabad election. In this case, Abhay has an upper hand as he resigned from the Assembly in protest against the agricultural laws.

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