Going by the flood of Modi billboards, posters and masks, some could be forgiven for thinking the Prime Minister has thrown his hat into the ring as a chief ministerial candidate. The BJP has not projected a chief ministerial face. Some half-a-dozen names, including that of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj who hails from the state, are in the air.
But the message is unmistakable: Modi will “rule” Haryana, no matter who becomes chief minister if the BJP unseats the Congress.
The tone of the campaign suggests Modi, not the BJP, will win if there is victory and vice-versa if it’s a defeat, with the Prime Minister appearing to have turned the October 15 polls into a personal battle.
“I want to bring the Centre and states not only paas-paas (closer) but also saath-saath (together),” Modi told a rally in Mahendragarh yesterday. He stressed that he wanted “his government” in Haryana. “I want a Team India where the PM and the CM work together. ”
If the rally mood was a pointer, it seemed Modi’s pitch had struck a chord. “Modi is doing good work at the Centre. We want a Modi government in Haryana too. Modiji will be in direct control, then there will be development in Haryana,” said Kailash Singh of Mahendragarh’s Buchawas village as he returned from the rally.
Modi had not campaigned in the area during the Lok Sabha elections, so the large turnout could be attributed partially to people’s curiosity for a glimpse of the “strong leader”.
But in Buchawas, children donned Modi masks while parents bragged about how the Prime Minister had made the “whole world rise and fear India” as a rising power under him.
“Modi ne Bharat ka danka pure duniya mein baja diya. Amrika ho ya China, sab Modi se darte hain (Modi has raised India’s stature in the world. Be it America or China, all are scared of Modi),” said Mahendra Kaushik.
He rejected Congress leaders’ criticism that the Modi government had not been able to check China’s intrusions in Ladakh and the latest Pakistani shelling that has killed civilians and sparked an exodus in Jammu’s border areas.
The BJP candidate from Mahendragarh, Rambilas Sharma, is a veteran in the region. He has represented the seat thrice since 1987 and was a minister in the Devi Lal government. He, however, lost the last three elections to a Yadav Congress candidate. Yadavs account for around 60 per cent of the voters here.
This time, Sharma is banking on Modi. “Sharmaji is a well-known face in Mahendragarh. But we have projected him as a representative of Narendra Modi. We are seeking votes in the name of Modiji,” said Manohar Lal, a local BJP leader overseeing the campaign.
Sharma and his supporters realise they won’t have a cakewalk, not in a state where caste loyalties count a lot, and acknowledge that it would not be easy to defeat the Congress nominee, Rao Dan Singh, a Yadav.
So, it is the “Modi magic” they are banking on. The BJP has, however, fielded Yadavs in other seats in the region and hopes to win a large number of them, even if Sharma doesn’t in Mahendragarh.
In Jorasi village, some 80km away in the Mewat region where the voters are mostly Muslims and Jats — the dominant caste in Haryana — opinion is split on Modi.
While Muslims are looking for an alternative to the BJP, the Jats have to choose between Modi and Om Prakash Chautala, the former chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief convicted in a recruitment scam. Chautala is now out on bail, granted on medical grounds.
“In this village of more than 1,300 Jat voters, most will vote for Chautala,” said Hawa Singh, who retired from the army.
But Singh was immediately interrupted by neighbour Jugbir Har Singh. “Modi ko bhi vote milega (Modi will also get votes), Jugbir declared.
The ruling Congress has to fight Chautala and Modi to be able to win enough seats in the 90-member Assembly to retain power.
-The Telegraph, Calcutta