Friends-turned-foes raise Sirsa poll heat

Sirsa was the epicentre of the farmers’ protest in Haryana, where former Congress state presidents Kumari Selja and Ashok Tanwar are locked in a fierce battle now.
Kumari Selja (left) and Ashok Tanwar
Kumari Selja (left) and Ashok TanwarIllustration: Mandar Pardikar

SIRSA (HARYANA): Political temperatures are soaring along with the mercury in Haryana’s Sirsa, a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes, where former Congress state presidents Kumari Selja and Ashok Tanwar are locked in a fierce battle. Not too long ago, they had fought side-by-side against the dominance of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Congress.

Tanwar left the Congress after failing to get the central leadership’s support for his stand against Hooda. He first joined the Aam Aadmi Party before switching sides again: he is now the BJP candidate from Sirsa.

Both Selja and Tanwar have roots in Sirsa. Selja’s father Dalbir Singh was an MP from Sirsa for four terms while Selja represented it twice. Tanwar won the Sirsa seat in 2009. This time, the BJP has replaced its sitting MP Sunita Duggal to bet on Tanwar.

Sirsa’s rich alluvial soil and irrigation system help the district’s bumper agricultural production. Its massive wheat production makes Haryana the second largest contributor of the grain to the central pool.

Home to a strong farming community, Sirsa was the epicentre of the farmers’ protest in Haryana. During campaign, Tanwar sometimes faces farmers’ ire in the form of black flags. He, however, dismisses them as paid workers of the Congress.

Tanwar’s thrust in his speeches is BJP’s rural infrastructure push. At a meeting in Rania, he asks a sarpanch to correct him if she’s not getting double the money for her panchayat now compared to the payment under the previous regime. “Earlier, we had to fight for `5 crore for a panchayat. Now we are spending up to `70 crore,” he says.

Selja loses no time in mocking her former colleague’s image as a party hopper. “Don’t be surprised if he is back in the Congress soon,” she says. The Congress has caught voters’ attention with its relentless campaign about the threat to reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. And that’s the leitmotif of Selja’s speeches.

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