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Haryana rural polls: BJP first off the block, keeps decision on alliance with JJP hanging

As party charts out meetings, JJP and INLD too hit the ground; Cong absence felt

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his deputy Dushyant Chautala. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi/File)

Given the BJP’s flip-flop during the municipal polls on the matter of alliance with partner Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), all eyes are on the party’s moves ahead of the panchayat elections in Haryana, expected next month.

Around 65% of the state’s population lives in rural areas, making the elections – to about 6,228 sarpanch and 62,022 posts, apart from posts in block samitis – a vital barometer for the parties to test their popularity ahead of the 2024 Assembly elections.

The BJP has made its intent clear by starting in earnest, with multiple rounds of discussions on the way with leaders and party workers, and meetings planned across the state. Several BJP leaders have also dropped hints that the state unit favours fighting solo. However, during the municipal polls in June, after similarly announcing that it would contest alone, the BJP had aligned with the JJP in a seat-sharing arrangement.

The BJP’s tally of 22 of 46 municipalities at the time, with the JJP getting just three, may seem an incentive to branch out on its own. However, many expect the party to eventually go with the JJP, to not alienate the

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Dushyant Chautala-led outfit at this juncture, when the countdown to 2024 has begun.

On August 24, as part of preparations for the polls, the BJP held a marathon meeting in New Delhi chaired by its Haryana chief Om Prakash Dhankar, and attended by top party leaders, including Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, MPs and MLAs.

Dhankar said they would take a call soon on whether to contest the rural polls on party symbol or not, as well as on aligning with the JJP. “The decisions shall be taken by the party poll committee once the election dates are announced,” Dhankar said.

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On the BJP’s plans, he said around 4,000 meetings would be held in the first week of September across the state, and that they had already held talks with leaders at several levels. “On September 2 and 3, BJP national president J P Nadda shall be on a two-day visit to Haryana. Besides panchayat polls, two major points of discussion would be expansion of party cadre base and ensuring that intended beneficiaries gain from various government schemes.”

The JJP has also started preparing its ground, as it waits for the BJP to make up its mind. It has appointed representatives across all the districts, with Dushyant Chautala, brother Digvijay and father Ajay Singh monitoring the arrangements and holding daily meetings with party workers.

They expect the polls to be held before September 30, Dushyant Chautala, the Deputy CM, said. On the matter of alliance with the BJP, he said: “Both the BJP and JJP are yet to decide if they would contest on party symbol. If they decide against it, then the question of an alliance does not exist.”

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Incidentally, Nadda is reportedly scheduled to also meet JJP leaders during his Haryana trip.

Of the opposition parties, the Congress will not be fighting the panchayat elections on a party symbol. In the municipal elections too it had backed candidates but not fielded anyone, with its nominees winning the lion’s share of the municipalities not taken by the BJP-JJP. Despite the hype and expectations – riding on farmers’ protest, for one – the debutant Aam Aadmi Party had managed only one seat.

Congress leaders said the decision not to contest on party symbol was not surprising. A senior leader asked where the structure was at the ground level for the party to do otherwise.

Congress leader and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been raising questions over the “delayed panchayat polls”. “Be it the three farm legislation that led to an year-long protest by farmers; a recent government order freeing shamlat land from the possession of villagers and executing mutation of such landholdings in favour of the panchayats; or poor development of villages… all these are reasons for which the state government is deliberately delaying the panchayat polls.”

In better shape on the ground than the Congress is the INLD. Its chief Om Prakash Chautala and lone MLA Abhay are also touring the length and breadth of the state, holding meetings in villages.

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“I shall be visiting at least 10 villages in each of the 90 Assembly constituencies of Haryana. I will visit village choupals and interact with the people directly. I shall also invite people to participate in the Chaudhary Devi Lal Samman rally scheduled for September 25 in Fatehabad,” a statement released by Chautala last week said.

First published on: 31-08-2022 at 03:12:33 pm
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