Haryana panchayat polls get HC nod, parties gear up for high-stakes battle

Haryana is set to witness a rise in political temperature with the state getting a go-ahead from the Punjab and Haryana High Court to hold the much-delayed panchayat polls. The court’s decision to vacate the stay on the conduct of polls comes at a time when all political parties have been warming up in anticipation of a high-stakes contest.

While a revamped state Congress unit now has the Hoodas in drivers’ seat to help the party regain ground, the Aam Aadmi Party too is eager to get a foothold in the state after its stupendous Punjab victory. However, it is not yet clear if alliance partners, the BJP and the JJP, will fight the panchayat polls together. The state government, where they both share power, has already been going all out to woo rural electorate. From free tablets to over 5 lakh students of government schools to free mobile phones to village Numberdars, the BJP-JJP coalition government has been splurging money lately to please rural voters. The now depleted INLD has also been covering the length and breadth of the state with an aim to revive its fortunes.

The panchayat polls will be a major local political contest before the Assembly polls scheduled for October, 2024, soon after the next Lok Sabha elections.

The poll contest will be a litmus test for the BJP and the JJP as rural voters in the state will get to electorally express themselves for the first time after the end of massive farmers’ protest that lasted over a year.
From the way both BJP and JJP have been their ‘public connect’ programmes, it seems that they will contest separately, said sources.

The HPCC too is trying to put up a united front despite infighting in the state unit that continues to rage.

While Bhupinder Hooda has emerged stronger after Kumari Selja’s replacement with his loyalist Udai Bhan in the saddle as HPCC chief, BJP has been targeting Hooda’s home turf, Rohtak. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar addressed a gathering in Rohtak and made several announcements, Wednesday.

“Rohtak can be called as a political capital of Haryana. I was also born in Rohtak. I also completed my studies here in Rohtak’s villages. I am familiar with each and every street of Rohtak. I have got immense love from Rohtak,” Khattar said while naming several tall leaders of Haryana who belonged to Rohtak.

Khattar, state BJP president Om Prakash Dhankar, several cabinet ministers from the BJP have been actively touring state’s several districts for the past several weeks after the party announced that it will connect with 21 lakh families in 21 days.

On Wednesday, Dhankar welcomed the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, adding that the panchayat polls will be held in the state soon.

The JJP led by Dushyant Chautala too has also been expanding its cadre.

“JJP held a membership drive from March 13 till April 25 in which over 7 lakh new members were added to the party. Our party workers went door-to-door and apprised people of Haryana with JJP’s policies and vision. We have got an immense response from the people,” said Ajay Chautala, national convener of the JJP.

“In the month of May, there will be five major public-connect programs of Ajay Chautala and Dushyant Chautala across Haryana. According to the schedule prepared so far, there will be major public rallies in Kharkhoda on May 15, in Narnaund on May 17 and in Barwala, Tohana and Sohna areas in the later half of this month,” said party’s state president Nishan Singh.

On Wednesday, Dushyant Chautala announced that the government would be providing mobile sets worth Rs 9,000 each to all the Numberdars across Haryana, by organising a mobile-mela.

“This morning a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Haryana government with Indian Bank, in which all the Numberdars of the state will be given an e-rupee coupon of Rs 9,000 by the bank, through which the numberdars will be able to buy mobiles of their preferred company in the mobile-melas that will be held in all the districts of the state in the coming days,” Dushyant said, adding that the mobile phones will be provided in the months of May-June.

Congress’s Randeep Surjewala, however, attacked the BJP-JJP coalition government and said, “BJP-JJP government of Haryana completely demolished the constitutional rights of people of Haryana by delaying the panchayat polls for over 14 months. Because of that, the development works in villages could not be completed and rural development funds worth Rs 2,400 crore lapsed. Congress demands that the government conducts panchayat polls immediately.”

The term of the village panchayats in Haryana had ended in February, 2021.

Although all major political parties across Haryana had been preparing for these polls for over more than 14 months, they were delayed due to multiple petitions filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court challenging some amendments made by the state government through the Haryana Panchayat Raj (Second Amendment) Act, 2020. The amendments in question are about reservation for backward castes and women in the panchayats.
As it permitted Haryana to hold elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions Wednesday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court made it clear that the polls will be held subject to outcome of a bunch of writ petitions before it.

One petition by the Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Dalit Samaj Vikas Samiti calls the amendments “arbitrary, unreasonable, and illegal”. The petition says that as per the Haryana Panchyati Raj Act, 1994, if the population in the village is half of the scheduled castes, then 50 per cent seats in the panchayat area are required to be filled by the SCs and are specifically reserved for them . The petitioner approached the court challenging the 2020 amendment for taking away the representation given to the SCs under the 1994 Act.

Another petition by two women has sought quashing of Sections 9, 59 and 120 of the Haryana Panchayati Raj (Second Amendment) Act, 2020, which provides for 50 per cent reservation for women in elections to the Panchayati Raj institutions.

On Wednesday, the matter had come up for hearing before the division bench of Chief Justice Ravi Shanker Jha and Justice Arun Palli. A detailed order in the matter was yet to be released on the HC website.

(WITH ENS CHANDIGARH)

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