Baroda bypolls: Why this seat is a battle of prestige for Congress, BJP

A head-to-head contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress is in the offing for the Baroda bypoll in Haryana which will go to polls on Tuesday.

Riding on the charisma of former chief minister and leader of opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the Congress is hoping for a fourth consecutive victory from this Deswali belt seat since 2009 assembly polls. Additionally, in a bid to open an account from this seat, the saffron party is making the last ditch effort.

The seat fell vacant after the demise of Congress MLA Sri Krishan Hooda on April 12 this year.

A total of 14 candidates are in the fray for the bypoll. While the BJP has fielded Olympian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, who lost by about 4,800 votes to Hooda in the 2019 assembly election, the Congress has put its money on a newcomer, Indu Raj Narwal, a former member of Sonepat zila parishad.

A total of 1.78 lakh voters- 97,819 males, 80,429 females and 2 transgender will exercise their voting rights, according to figures released by the Election Commission officials. Of these, 5,092 voters are above 80 years of age and 1,860 service electors. As many as 280 polling stations (223 main and 57 auxiliary) have been formed and a booth can have a maximum of 1,000 electors.

As the seat will undergo polling exercise during a coronavirus disease outbreak, the Election Commission of India has arranged for one lakh single–use gloves for Baroda voters to put on when they press the EVM button to cast their votes, 57,500 surgical masks, 3,500 face shields, 1,650 bottles of hand sanitiser (500 ml each) and 3,500 each personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and N-95 face masks.

Why Baroda seat is a battle of prestige for Hooda

Anant Ram, retired professor of political science at Bhiwani Government College, said the bypoll is a challenge for Hooda to save his bastion and similarly the results of the election will be a verdict on the performance of the BJP-JJP government.

“A win here will underscore Hooda’s hold in the Deshwali belt and restore the Congress tally in the assembly to 31. However, the bypoll is significant for the BJP-JJP government as the outcome will reflect the performance of the government and mood of the voters towards the alliance partner, who had contested the 2019 assembly election separately and targeted guns at each other.

Ram explained that the BJP has made an experiment to pitch a non-Jat candidate from the rural Jat dominated seat amid three laws’ protests. “If they win from the Baroda seat, they will adopt this strategy in other Jat dominated seats in the future elections. If they lose this election, it will impact the image of the chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar,” he added.

BJP distributes money, liquor and refill gas cylinders to woo voters, alleges Hooda

Addressing a press conference at his residence, leader of opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda alleged that the BJP leaders and workers have been distributing money, liquor and refilling gas cylinders of poor voters to influence the election.

“The BJP has reached such a low level but they can’t purchase the self respect of voters. The Congress will definitely defeat the BJP in this high-stake bypoll. Even the Jind Director Inspector General (DIG) OP Narwal, is canvassing in favour of the BJP candidate. We have written to the election commission of India (ECI) to take action in both incidents,” Hooda said.

The Congress and Hooda are banking heavily on the support of Jat voters who have a brute 52% majority in this Deswali belt constituency. The Congress nominee, Indu Raj Narwal,40, is a Jat who comes from Rindhana village in neighbouring Gohana tehsil, a village known to spring up international kabaddi players. He was a surprise pick after Hooda’s original choice Kapoor Singh Narwal, a turncoat from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) stable and who till recently was in the BJP, was not given a Congress nomination.

His BJP rival, 37-year-ol Yogeshwar Dutt, a Commonwealth gold winning wrestler is a Brahmin and banks heavily on being a sporting icon and the BJP’s ability to sway the non-Jat votes. Dutt who comes from Bhainswal Kalan, a Jat dominated village had made his electoral debut in 2019 assembly polls after securing a BJP nomination from Baroda. His second shot at Baroda will depend on his star power and consolidation of non-Jats in this Jat dominated constituency. Brahmins account for about 12% votes in Baroda.

Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has fielded Joginder Singh Malik,41, a candidate who badly lost the 2019 assembly election from Baroda. Malik, a Jat candidate finished a poor fifth securing only 3,145 votes, less than 3% of the total votes polled.

Former BJP MP from Kurukshetra, Rajkumar Saini, who had floated his own outfit last year has also thrown his hat in the contest. However, the INLD candidate and Saini are unlikely to affect the outcome of the Congress versus BJP contest.

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