The ruling Congress party yesterday lost all four by-elections it competed in – one for the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) and the rest for assembly seats. The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in contrast, did very well – three of the BJP-backed candidates prevailed, while the party had no stake in the remaining seat.
The most galling defeat for the Congress was losing the Hissar Lok Sabha seat, where its candidate Jai Prakash finished a poor third, losing his security deposit. The loss is humiliating not only because the Congress is in power there, but also because social activist Anna Hazare had come out openly against the Congress and urged the public to vote against the Congress candidate over the party’s failure to make the Jan Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill law.
But was the poll really a victory for Hazare? Not necessarily. Indeed, Hazare and his civil society supporters stand to be the losers in the long run. Hissar has never been a Congress stronghold, and Prakash had already placed third last time he ran. This time, Prakash’s chances had been eroded even more because the by-election was prompted by the death of the member of parliament from Hissar, Bhajan Lal – a former chief minister of Haryana who broke away from the Congress to launch his own party, Haryana Janhit Congress. Lal’s son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, won this time around, although by a mere 6,000 votes.
The Hazare camp cleverly chose Hissar for its challenge to Congress. It’s almost unheard of for the Indian electorate to reject the scion of an MP after his or her death. The sympathy factor was there for Bishnoi, something that would have been noted by Hissar native Arvind Kejriwal – a close Hazare aide.
The real test between Hazare and Congress will only come when the anti-corruption crusader challenges Congress in one of its strongholds or at the next general election. As it is, Hazare’s detractors are gaining in numbers and shrillness with each passing day. His NGO, for a start, has come under the eye of the Supreme Court for its alleged financial mismanagement. By taking on the Congress directly, Hazare has added force to the Congress allegation that he is hand in glove with the BJP.
This is the hamartia (tragic flaw) of Hazare. His movement was far more patriotic when he was apolitical. After publically campaigning against the Congress, Hazare and his team members have lost that edge.
Hazare’s movement is undoubtedly run in the name of a noble cause, but he is losing his way. India needs Hazare to be a beacon of light and wisdom, not a misguided missile.