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Congress routed in Hisar,4 assembly bypolls

New Delhi: Hisar has sent Kuldeep Bishnoi of the Haryana Janhit Congress, supported by the BJP, to the Lok Sabha. Mr Bishnoi is the son of Bhajan Lal, who was the Hisar MP and who died in June this year. The Congress, which faced the ignominy of Team Anna campaigning vigorously against it in Hisar, came in a poor third, behind Mr Bishnoi and Ajay Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal. The Congress was third in 2009 too. Senior Congress leaders have this and other losses to chew on. Of four assembly and Lok Sabha by-elections held in different states, the Congress has won none.

About Hisar, senior Congressman Salman Khurshid said not too much should be read into the Congress` dismal showing. "Unlike other seats in Haryana, Hisar was not a strong seat for us. Not much should be read into it. You win some and you lose some," he said.

In fact, the loss that will hit harder than Hisar is the one closer home to Anna Hazare – the Khadakwasla assembly constituency in Pune, Maharashtra. There was no Team Anna campaigning there, Raj Thackeray`s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, that held the seat did not contest and the Congress had fielded a candidate who seemed like a sure-shot winner – the wife of the MLA who died in harness. But the BJP-Shiv Sena candidate Bhimrao Tapkir beat  Congress-NCP nominee Harshada Wanjale by a margin of 4,000 votes. The Congress also lost to the TRS in an Assembly bye-election in Andhra Pradesh and to BJP ally JD-U in a Bihar by-poll. 

The BJP was all smiles. Senior leader Murli Manohar Joshi said, "The by-election results show that the people of India have voted against corruption and the Congress. This is a victory of democracy…It also indicates which way the political wind is blowing in the country.
In Hisar, a largely local election that turned into a high-profile battleground, did anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare`s closest aides campaigning against the Congress help Mr Bishnoi win? Mr Bishnoi thinks not. "Team Anna has not been a factor here," he said, referring to Anna Hazare`s closest aides campaigning vigorously here, asking voters to spurn the Congress.

Mr Hazare`s group had asked Hisar to prove to the Congress that voters will reject the party if it does not deliver the Lokpal Bill – a new anti-corruption bill – in the winter session of Parliament.  Mr Bishnoi, whose father Bhajan Lal was the Hisar MP and whose death in June necessitated this by-election, said, "I support Anna…but his team should make it clear…who do they want people to vote for? Are they against the Congress or are they against corruption?" asked Mr Bishnoi. He also said that the by-election has little place for the Congress, whose candidate Jai Prakash, is a distant number 3. "It`s between Ajay Chautala (of the INLD) and me," Mr Bishnoi said. Mr Chautala`s father, Om Prakash, has served in the past as Chief Minister of the state. The Chautalas have been accused of enormous corruption – the CBI has accused them of collecting assets worth thousands of crores that they cannot account for.

Team Anna was quick to say it had no hand in Mr Bishnoi`s success. "We just wanted the Congress to lose," civil society activist Arvind Kejriwal said.  Mr Kejriwal and his colleague Kiran Bedi had launched an aggressive and extensive anti-Congress campaign, dubbing it as a "government of the corrupt". 

Battleground Hisar was being looked at also as a litmus test for Team Anna to see if its impact goes beyond the Ramlila Ground, where thousands had supported Anna Hazare`s 13-day fast in August. For the Congress, forced to rope in Chief Ministers of two neighbouring states to try and win a seat they haven`t won since 2004, it was a matter of saving face.

But the Congress has reacted sharply at all levels to Anna`s campaign. Hit by the Anna blitzkrieg, the Congress candidate in Hisar, Jai Prakash, protested strongly saying he was hurt and the people were angry with the anti-Congress campaign. "Anna Hazare`s movement will fail because he has lost his way. Look at the way Prashant Bhushan has been beaten, (Arvind) Kejriwal will face similar consequences for the way he has created politics in Hisar and has spoken against Congress."  Mr Jai Prakash`s comment shocked many and was interpreted by some as a threat. Mr Bhushan, a core member of Anna`s inner circle, was beaten up at his Supreme Court chambers last week for his comments on Kashmir.  Mr Jai Prakash seemed to suggest that Mr Kejriwal was vulnerable to a similar attack. Mr Jai Prakash later said that was not what he meant.

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh accused Anna Hazare of inadvertently benefitting its political rivals in the polls. The party General Secretary wrote an open letter to Mr Hazare saying, "Are you not aware of the history of the family of late Bhajan Lal? Are you not acquainted with the history of Chautala family? Are you oblivious of the fact that there were cases of corruption pending against them in courts?"  Mr Singh further said that people close to the veteran Gandhian were exploiting his image for their gain.

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