With Sushma Swaraj away in the United States, her sister is on her own in Safidon. And Vandana Sharma appears to be in a hurry as she fights her maiden electoral battle.
She steps out of her vehicle in the busy vegetable mandi of Safidon town, enters the first shop and is already moving towards the next one before anyone in the first shop can so much as exchange a pair of sentences with her. Traders are disappointed by her whirlwind, chaotic roadshow, having wanted to share a few words with the newcomer.
Vandana had moved to Safidon only last year from Narwana and is fighting the tag of an outsider in a constituency where most other parties have fielded local veterans. Add to that is breakaway Congress leader Venod Sharma’s bitterness. His attempts to enter the BJP and the HJC having been blocked reportedly on Sushma’s insistence, he has fielded a candidate from his fledgling Jan Chetna Party with the single objective of defeating her sister.
The BJP has never won the constituency, represented five times by the INLD, twice by the Congress and once by an independent. Vandana, a teacher, is seen by many as a proxy candidate for Sushma, whose pictures appear alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s on posters. For all the reports of strained relations between Modi and Sushma, it is on the prime minister’s image that Vandana is hoping to sail through. Her posters carry the slogan, “Haryana ke badlein halaat, chalo chale Modi ke saath.”
The local BJP unit is hoping the tide will turn once Sushma returns and enters the campaign, and once Modi addresses a rally in the town, a view expressed by Narinder as he holds the BJP flag outside the party office in the main market. Vandana greets party men and moves on.
“She is an outsider,” says Bachan Singh Arya, the Congress candidate who has represented the constituency, once on behalf of the Congress and once as an independent. “I have worked for the constituency without thinking about whether I was representing it or not. I can’t see her anywhere in the competition.”
Safidon is a Jat-dominated constituency — 45,000 out of a 1.63 lakh population. Jats are followed by Brahmins at 24,000. To upset the BJP’s hopes from the Brahmin vote-bank, Venod Sharma too has fielded a Brahmin, Shyam Sunder Sharma, having bargained with HJC chief Kuldeep Bishnoi and got the seat.
No major party has fielded a Jat. The INLD candidate, sitting MLA Kali Ram, though not a Jat, has been winning on the strength of the support the Jats show for the Chautalas.
The one Jat candidate, Jasbir Deswal, is a Congress rebel who was denied the party ticket. He is likely to split the community’s vote.