One of the keenly watched contests, the by-election to the Ellenabad Assembly seat in Haryana will have wider political ramifications, according to political analysts.
In a three- cornered fight, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate Abhay Singh Chautala retained the seat by defeating his BJP rival, Gobind Kanda by 6,739 votes. The bypoll was necessitated after Chautala resigned as MLA from the seat in protest against the contentious three farm laws passed by the Central government in September last year.
The outcome of the high- stake battle was perceived to reflect the mood of the agrarian community and its larger impact on the upcoming assembly elections in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, scheduled for early next year.
Significantly, Ellenabad Assembly elections was the first to take place in Haryana in the shadow of the ongoing farmers agitation, which began in November last year. Haryana has been at the centre of the agitation and the BJP-JJP government has come under severe attack from farmers and opposition parties for mishandling the protests and protesters on many occasions. Political commentator Neerja Chowdhury says that the Manohar Lal Khattar led BJP-JJP government should see the defeat as a reality check of its government.
“The BJP lost a lot of ground in Haryana. It was a prestigious battle for the party,” says Chowdhury.
The Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh has also cast a shadow on the elections, where four farmers were mowed down by an SUV allegedly driven by son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, and four others were killed in the ensuing violence. Neerja Choudhary attributes the ongoing farmers protests as a major reason for BJP’s electoral setback in Haryana and other states.
“Farmer protests had a big impact in the election, particularly in North India. It is also significant that the BJP’s performance in three Lok Sabha seats also wasn’t impressive,” she says.
For the protesting farmers too, the election was a high stake one as the agitation completes a year this month. Not surprisingly, many farmer leaders have been actively campaigning against BJP- JJP alliance candidate Gobind Kanda. Just before the elections, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait even indirectly exhorted to vote for Abhay Chautala in the polls.
One of the farmer leaders told Outlook that the Haryana result can be interpreted as a referendum for the farmers' movement though they were hoping to get a bigger margin for Abhay Singh Chautala. The leader also said that the result is an indication that the electoral prospect of the BJP will be impacted in the upcoming state elections, particularly in Western UP, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
While Choudhary believes that the results are an indication of which way the wind blows in UP and Punjab, Praveen Rai of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) says that poll results do not necessarily reflect the overall mood of the country.
“The result of one seat doesn’t point to a larger picture. It can be a pointer that the people are unhappy about the manner in which the CM has responded to the agitation. It hasn’t resonated well with the people. In Haryana and Punjab people are very much connected to their rural settings. This could be a pointer that they want the CM to handle the situation differently,” says Rai.
Analysts also say that the battle for the Ellenabad seat was a tough one as BJP has fielded Gobind Kanda, the brother of Haryana Lokhit Party chief and MLA Gopal Kanda.
Gobind Kanda joined the (BJP) recently and the party was hoping to woo the non-Jat vote bank in the constituency by fielding him. “Since the Jat community supported INLD, the BJP was focusing on the non Jats,” says Chowdhury.
for Abhay Singh Chautala— son of former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, at stake was his political future, as the lone representative of INLD in the 90- member Haryana Assembly. The election was also important as the heirs of the former deputy Prime Minister late Devi Lal were contesting against each other to clinch the seat. The BJP candidate has been supported by its ally JJP, which is headed by the INLD leader's nephew, Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala.
The Congress, which has been at the forefront of the farmers' protests in the state, however, failed to make any impact in the election. The party has fielded BJP-rebel Pawan Beniwal, who switched sides recently.