Its a battle of prestige for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s close lieutenant and partys national spokesman Randeep Surjewala, who is seeking re-election from this Haryana hot seat, considered the birthplace of Lord Hanuman and that too a time when the state is ruled by the BJP.
Riding high on its pro-incumbency and the Modi factor, the BJP is using all maneuvering to make a maiden foray into the Congress citadel, dominated by the Jats and Gurjars.
Former state Cabinet Minister Surjewala, 52, is struggling to retain the seat for the third consecutive win.
Between 2005 and 2009, Kaithal, traditionally a stronghold of the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), was represented by his father Shamsher Singh, a former minister and state party President.
The Manohar Lal Khattar-led government is confident of a remarkable win this time after winning an Assembly bypoll in Jind in January where Surjewala finished third after newly floated Jannayak Janata Party’s Digvijay Chautala.
BJP’s national President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah in an election rally last week in this urban seat that falls in the Kurukshetra parliamentary constituency took potshots at Surjewala by saying, “Whatever Modiji does, Surjewala gets a stomach ache.”
In Kaithal, he made it clear that illegal immigration and the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) remained a Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) core priority.
“The BJP is talking on national issues in the assembly polls just to divert the attention from the local problems. In five years, the BJP stalled development in Kaithal,” Surjewala, who is banking on the development work undertaken by him during the Congress stint, told IANS.
“It is a battle between national issues versus local issues in the state,” he added.
Contrary to him, locals blame their legislator for deliberately ignoring the constituency — an important tourism site with famous historical temples and tombs of Sufi saints, in national politics.
Local resident Naresh Khullar said there was no major development in the town in five years owing to a Congress legislator from here.
“After getting elected, his focus was more on the national scene than the local problems. We suffered only because he was from the Opposition,” he added.
Another resident Gopal Sharma said for the first time there is a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP as the INLD has marginalised in state politics after infighting and family feud. This time it is bitter too.
“People have seen the pace of development across the state during the BJP rule. I think they will go for the BJP candidate in Kaithal,” he added.
Surjewala is credited for develop parks, stadiums, Bhai Udai Singh Fort, besides basic amenities and infrastructure in his constituency when his party was at helm from 2004 to 2014, but poor drainage and parking facilities are a couple of issues plaguing Kaithal.
The Congress leader has blamed the BJP government for deliberately ignoring his constituency.
Modi had laid the foundation stone for the modernisation of Ambala-Kaithal-Hisar national highway at his first visit to the state after becoming Prime Minister but it could not be completed in five years, asked Surjewala, who is fighting his lone political battle in the absence of senior party leaders.
Hitting out at the Congress rival by presenting his report card, Chief Minister Khattar is missing no opportunity by reminding the voters in Kaithal that out of the 70 Assembly sittings in five years, Surjewala had attended the proceedings just seven days. His seat in the assembly remained unoccupied for 63 days.
Taking jibe at Surjewala’s recent defeat in the Jind bypoll, Khattar is saying, “He must have thought that a victory in Jind will take him closer to Delhi”.
BJP’s fielding of Gurjar leader Leela Ram, a former legislator who defected the INLD and joined the saffron party in 2014, has made the contest straight between the Jats and the Gurjars. He is in fray for the third time, but emerged winner only once.
The constituency has nearly 2 lakh voter strength that includes 30,000 Jats (15 per cent) and 22,000 Gurjars (11 per cent). The other communities include the Baniyas, Dalits and the Punjabi community.
Surjewala, who believes the ‘achhe din’ myth exposed, is countering the BJP’s attacks by recalling the BJP candidate’s ‘tainted’ past as an INLD legislator from 2000 and 2005.
A video grab of Surjewala’s Jind bypoll campaign is in circulation these days on social media in which he’s purportedly heard saying, “Mai MLA banne nahi aaya, par yeh sankalp karke aaya hu ki Kaithal seat se istifa de dunga or Jind ka MLA banke rahunga (I am not here to become an MLA, but to take an oath that I will resign from my present seat of Kaithal, but will become Jind MLA).”
Haryana will go to the polls on October 21 and the counting of ballots will be held on October 24.