Wings of Time: Politics, ‘godman’ issue, SGPC kept Haryana in news in 2014

New Delhi(PTI): 2014 was an eventful year in Haryana both on the political front and otherwise as BJP captured power relegating Congress and INLD to the fringes while ‘godman’ Rampal episode and the separate SGPC issue also made headlines.

BJP replicated in the Assembly elections its good showing in the Lok Sabha polls as it decimated major contenders Congress and INLD, pushing them into political wilderness.

However, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government was put to test shortly after taking over in late October with the standoff over the issue of Rampal, who was holed up inside his Satlok Ashram in Hisar’s Barwala for days after failing to appear before Punjab and Haryana High Court in connection with a contempt of court case.

The nearly 10-day-long siege in the ashram in November, during which Rampal’s private commandos and staunch followers clashed with police resisting attempt to arrest the 63-year old ‘godman’, left more than 200 people including a few journalists injured.

The siege, during which six, including five women and an infant also died, finally came to an end with Rampal’s arrest from his ashram. He was later put in jail and slapped with more cases including sedition and murder while nearly 1,000 people, most of them his commandos, ashram functionaries and staunch supporters, were arrested.

Earlier in July-August, when the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led government of Congress was in power, formation of separate SGPC by Haryana snowballed into a major controversy triggering violent clashes between warring factions at Kurukshetra.

Akal Takht, highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, Amritsar-based SGPC, apex religious body of the community, Punjab’s ruling SAD and some Sikh organisations vehemently opposed formation of the separate body by Hooda government and dubbed it as a move to “divide and weaken” the community.

Towards October end, in a Bollywood-style heist, thieves dug up a 125-feet-long tunnel to a nationalised bank in Sonepat district from an abandoned house and broke into many lockers decamping with cash, jewellery and other valuables.

In December, the case which hogged media limelight involved two college-going sisters who thrashed three youths for allegedly eve-teasing them in a moving bus on Rohtak-Sonepat road.

BJP won seven of the eight seats it contested in the Lok Sabha polls. The remaining two out of the total 10 seats in Haryana were fought by BJP’s ally Kuldeep Bishnoi-led HJC, both of which it lost.

Hooda’s son Deepinder Singh was the only saving grace for Congress as he retained his Rohtak seat.

INLD won two Lok Sabha seats including wresting Hisar from Bishnoi, where Chautala’s grandson Dushyant emerged winner.

Desperate to prop up fortunes of his party, INLD president Om Prakash Chautala, who was then out on bail in JBT teachers recruitment scam case, himself joined campaigning towards September end for nearly three weeks ahead of the state assembly polls, but his party fell way short of reaching anywhere close to majority in the 90-member Assembly, winning just 19 seats.

Even Chautala’s grandson and Hisar MP Dushyant who had jumped into fray from Uchana Kalan in Jind district, the seat held by Chautala Senior, lost to Birender Singh’s wife Prem Lata.

The assembly polls also dealt severe blow to Bishnoi’s party HJC, which managed to win just two seats, with HJC chief and his wife Renuka the only winners.

HJCP led by Venod Sharma, who floated his own party shortly before the assembly polls after his effort to switch over to BJP was unsuccessful, failed to win any seat while former Minister Gopal Kanda’s HLP, too, failed to impress the voters and did not open its account.

BJP, which had earlier been playing second fiddle to other parties, bagged 47 seats and most of its MLAs who won were first-timers.

Congress won 15 assembly seats and series of populist announcements made by the Hooda government shortly before the polls failed to garner votes for them, with some of its senior leaders including six-time MLA Ajay Singh Yadav biting the dust.

BJP stormed to power for the first time on its own in the history of Haryana, carved out as a separate state in November 1966. It also received a shot in the arm when political wing of the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda, which claims large following in Haryana and some other states, extended its support to BJP just before the assembly polls.

60-year-old Khattar, first time MLA and former RSS Pracharak, earned the distinction of becoming the first Punjabi Chief Minister of Haryana. He is also the non-Jat chief minister after 18 years.

After assuming power, the Khattar government vowed to eliminate corruption from all spheres, give a transparent and accountable administration and proceed according to law into alleged wrongdoings of the previous government that includes some of the shady land deals.

It also started reversing some of the decisions of the Hooda government that included lowering retirement age of government employees from 60 to 58, mainly with an eye to generate jobs for youths, even as it maintained that pro-public schemes of the erstwhile regime would continue.

The BJP government also hiked the old-age pension from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,200, announcing to further hike it by Rs 200 every year.

Earlier in the year, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stones of Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership and National Cancer Institute in Jhajjar district and a Rs 23,502-crore 2800 MW nuclear power plant in Gorakhpur village in Fatehabad district.

Towards the middle of the year, Haryana got a new governor after Kaptan Singh Solanki took over from Jagannath Pahadia, whose term had come to an end.

Dalbir Singh Suhag, who hails from Jhajjar, took over as the Army chief.

Haryana’s sportspersons continued to make the country proud with their impressive performance, this time in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, winning a bulk of the medals.

The Khattar government also announced that it will bring a new sports policy in January.

On the political front, Abhay Singh Chautala became the Leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, Kiran Choudhary became the Congress Legislature Party leader, former Union Minister Kumari Selja entered the Rajya Sabha while BJP got its new President in Haryana after Subhash Barala, a Jat leader, took over from Ram Bilas Sharma, who was appointed as Cabinet Minister in the Khattar government.

Union Ministers Birender Singh and Suresh Prabhu entered the Rajya Sabha from Haryana.