With Manohar Lal Khattar's BJP government in Haryana providing enough political ammunition through its model of governance, and the Congress mired in massive infighting, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has upped its game in Haryana to make optimum use of the opportunity available.
The party has adopted an aggressive stance and has come up with programmes at the state level while reaching out to the masses and consolidating its support base, particularly among the farming communities.
Senior party leader Abhay Chautala, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly, has announced that the INLD and its supporters would be observing a Black Diwali this year, as a mark of protest against the anti-farmer policies of the BJP government. This will be further intensified, with a call for a Haryana Bandh sometime after 15 November, once the procurement season is over.
The core issue
Paddy procurement in the state has been mired in controversy since the government levied a 'moisture cut' on farmer produce if it had high moisture content. A large number of farmers have complained that the officials are misusing their powers, and also calibration machines, to cheat them.
The matter has snowballed into a political issue, with the INLD attacking the government on a daily basis.
Khattar has said that it has become necessary to adopt this formula, as there used to be a number of complaints regarding overcharging by millers and commission agents in the name of moisture content. The adoption of this formula has put a check on such complaints, and both farmers and commission agents are happy with the government's decision.
Khattar has stated that for farmers whose crops have a moisture content of up to 17%, no money is being charged.
The state government claims to have set up 'Kisan Sahayata Kendras' in mandis across Haryana, and procurement agencies have been directed to ensure prompt procurement and make timely payments to the farmers.
The food, civil supplies and consumer affairs departments have already started a four-digit helpline number - 1967 - on which the farmers can lodge their complaints.
But INLD leaders claim what is happening is quite contrary to the announcements made.
Chautala pointed out that farmers are facing a tough time because they are not getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crops.
"Farmers have told us they are being denied MSP on the pretext of high moisture content in their crops. It needs to be probed how millers have deployed their men to check moisture content in crops. They show the moisture content beyond the permissible limit of 17%, and then impose arbitrary cuts on the MSP," he claimed, while pointing out that the officials were unable to carry out calibration in his presence in some mandis.
The INLD has also threatened to boycott the state's golden jubilee celebrations from 1 November if the government doesn't address the concerns of the people.
The party has raised populist demands to play to the gallery.
Chautala said: "If they are really concerned about the welfare of people, they should immediately increase old-age pension to Rs 2,000 and give unemployment allowance of Rs 6,000 to the youth. They should pay the farmers as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and the state government employees should be given pay scales at par with the neighbouring Punjab."
The INLD has accused the Khattar government of having come out with an improper road map for the year-long celebrations. "They are wasting nearly Rs 1,700 crore of public money to glorify their own and the party's image. They just want to implement the RSS's agenda," Chautala said.
The party has also accused the state government of planning to hand over panchayat lands to industrialists, and also asking sarpanches of panchayats having a revenue of more than Rs 1 crore to hand over the money to executive engineers for disbursement.
How Cong is playing into INLD's hands
Observers said the INLD is quickly trying to gobble up the space being provided by the Congress, which is mired in massive internal bickering. The division in the Congress ranks has led to the failure of the party coming up with any cohesive programme at the state level.
The party saw new heights in its internal war when supporters of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and state Congress president Ashok Tanwar clashed on the day the party's national vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, returned to Delhi after his Kisan Yatra in Uttar Pradesh.
Tanwar sustained injuries and was hospitalised, where he was visited by Khattar. Tanwar has asked Khattar to take action against Hooda's security personnel, who allegedly hit him.
There are different versions on what sparked the clash. Some say it was a tussle over which group would welcome Rahul, while others say the flashpoint was the tearing of posters bearing Tanwar's picture by Hooda supporters.
But what did happen represented a new low for the party in Haryana.
The Congress high command has ordered a probe by senior leader Sushil Kumar Shinde. Reports say president Sonia Gandhi has asked Shinde to carry out the investigation at the earliest. A preliminary probe was carried out in the matter by Haryana in-charge Kamal Nath, who is learnt to have briefed Rahul on his findings. The Congress will have to put its house in order before it gets too late.
BJP's shows of strength
While the INLD is fast occupying the entire Opposition space, the ruling BJP is also trying to enhance its support base fast. Reports suggest that the BJP is going in for several shows of strength to mark various occasions.
Prime minister Narendra Modi is expected to turn up to kick start the state's golden jubilee celebrations on 1 November.
Rallies and programmes have also been listed for senior leaders like Rao Inderjit Singh, Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini and Rajya Sabha MP Subhash Chandra. Chandra will be organising a fair for the Vaishya Samaj at Agroha in Hisar on 16 October, where BJP national president Amit Shah will be the chief guest.
Shah, along with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, is expected to participate in a Shahidi Diwas programme in Rewari in mid-November.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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