It is past 11 pm but the village is far from asleep. Young boys stand along the lanes, the elderly wait with garlands and the women stand on the roof. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Randeep Singh Surjewala of the Congress is behind schedule by an hour but no one seems to mind. It is election time and campaigning is on at a feverish pace.
All at once the narrow roads light up as Surjewala’s Mitsubishi Pajero approaches. He gets down, pops in lozenges and accepts greetings before walking up to a chaupal.
“Is baar apne bhai ko phir se jita do. Main aap ko No 1 pe le jaun ga. Mujhe bhi No 1 banana hai toh vote zaroor dena,” he appeals to the small gathering. A youth shouts from amid the crowd, “Aap chief minister ban jana.” And there emerges a new slogan: ‘Vikas aur shanti ka prateek, bhai Randeep’.
His vehicle was parked very close to the venue. But even before he could get down, a few people got in. “Bhai sahib, zara baat karni hai,” they say. The vehicle is packed and security personnel are hanging on, holding onto windows. “You cannot help it.
People want to put forth their suggestions. I am campaigning since the Lok Sabha elections and have taken several rounds of these villages but people still have so much to share.”
Surjewala’s speech is direct, he keeps it limited to asking for votes. No. 1 Haryana, development, infrastructure and jobs are the initial focus, but later it attacks the BJP and the Prime Minister. “It is strange that the Prime Minister came here unprepared and levelled unfounded charges. His words are noted but he does not seem worried about his credibility,” he said.
His vehicle, meanwhile, moves to the next venue where he is joined by former MP Naveen Jindal, former Punjab MP Vijay Inder Singla and MLA Kuljit Nagra. A large crowd awaits. He addresses the gathering and quickly makes his way to another village after refusing dinner. “People are waiting. I have to reach there,” he says.
On the move, he replies to questions. “Chautala has authenticated the general belief that he heads the goonda party. Look at his audacity. His bail is on medical grounds and he is campaigning from one corner to another. However, he has harmed his own party. Thankfully, his joining the campaign helped improve our situation,” Surjewala told The Indian Express.
He was candid enough to admit that the Congress got off to a shaky start. “But we improved tremendously after Modi and Chautala joined the campaign. Both exposed themselves. One tries to be personae dramatis of the campaign, while another was threatening to run the state from behind the wall. Only the Congress has a genuine approach,” said Surjewala.
He is caught in a triangular fight in the constituency. A resurgent BJP is out to challenge him and has fielded Rao Surender Singh, who was all set to contest as a Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) candidate but defected at the last minute. The BJP, meanwhile, got PM Modi to start his Mission Haryana from Kaithal. It was at the PM’s Kaithal event that Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was hooted at, an issue that assumed national proportion later.
The INLD is fielding senior leader Kailash Bhagat, who Surjewala defeated in the last elections by a comfortable margin of over 25,000 votes.