It would have been just another Lok Sabha by-election. But Team Anna's aggressive campaign and call to defeat the Congress have brought all eyes on Hisar, where people are voting today to choose their new MP.
The triangular battle among the leading political players of Haryana has become a high-stakes one for the Congress, with Gandhian activist Anna Hazare and his associates queering the pitch by asking voters to vote for any party but the Congress, so that it is forced to pass their Jan Lokpal bill in the winter session of Parliament. Team Anna, in effect, has given a national colour to a largely local election.
The septuagenarian activist has declared that he will "travel to states where elections are to be held and will tell voters not to vote for Congress." And though he did not travel to Hisar, he sent a campaign video and his team mates campaigned tirelessly against the Congress.
Another election is being held today closer home in Anna's Maharashtra, an Assembly by-election in Pune, but no Team Anna member has campaigned against the Congress there. Anna's detractors say this is a calculated move by Team Anna. Politically, the chances of the Congress winning in Hisar are slim and Team Anna can take credit if the party loses. But in Pune, the NCP-Congress combine is on strong turf and if it had won despite the activists campaigning, it would have meant loss of face for Anna Hazare, they say.
In Hisar, also in the fray are the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Haryana Janhit Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. Hisar is a stronghold of Kuldeep Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Vikas Party; his father, Bhajan Lal, was the Hisar MP and his death in June this year necessitated the by-election. Mr Bishnoi has staked claim to the political legacy of his father, but does not discount the Anna factor and how it could weigh in his favour.
The INLD, which is the main opposition party of the state, has fielded former MP Ajay Chautala, son of party chief Om Prakash Chautala. The party has lost two successive assembly polls in the state and was wiped out in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The party is keen to garner at least one seat in Parliament.
Digvijaya Singh of the Congress who wrote a letter to Anna, faulting the Gandhian for campaigning against the Congress said Team Anna is indirectly helping Mr Bishnoi and Mr Chautala, whose family has been investigated by the CBI for corruption and wealth that cannot be accounted for - at one point, the Chautalas' assets were evaluated at nearly 1,500 crores. Mr Chautala says he's confident that Team Anna is rooting for him. "His (Anna's) team is openly speaking against the Congress," he said, "they have also spoken against Bishnoi. So it's clear who they are supporting. I will of course benefit from their support," he said.
The Congress has fielded former MP Jai Prakash and its poll efforts have been led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Party sources said Mr Hooda campaigned extensively in the constituency for over 10 days to boost the prospects of the party candidate.
Local issues like water, electricity, unemployment and fertiliser prices were important till Team Anna descended with its campaign against corruption and price-rise.
Arvind Kejriwal and some other members of Team Anna addressed a series of meetings in Hisar, urging voters not to support the Congress.
The Congress is aghast and has fought back saying Team Anna is getting political. "By calling upon voters to not vote for one party, certainly lots of people from civil society are asking if does it not help other parties," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said. Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh suggested that Anna Hazare enter politics and has alleged that the social activist has links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The results of the keenly-watched by-election will be declared on October 17. (With IANS INPUTS)