Baroda assembly bypoll: Congress, BJP lock horns in Jat-dominated Hooda bastion

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

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

Battle of prestige for Hooda

The bypoll is a battle of prestige for former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda since the Baroda assembly constituency is considered his backyard. The constituency in Sonepat district lies adjacent to Hooda’s own constituency, Garhi-Sampla Kiloi in Rohtak. A win here will underscore Hooda’s hold in the Deswali belt and restore the Congress tally in the assembly to 31.

The by election also holds significance for the ruling BJP as the outcome will be construed as a reflection on the one-year rule of the BJP-JJP alliance. Also, the enactment of three farm laws by the Centre, which led to protests across the state, may affect the complexion of the contest in a constituency which is primarily agrarian in nature.

Jat domination, a plus for Congress

The Congress and Hooda are banking heavily on the support of Jat voters who have a brute 50% 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 kabbadi players. A rank newcomer, Narwal got the Congress nomination due to his proximity to Hooda. 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.

Narwal draws confidence from the fact that Hooda, his MP son Deepender and their loyalists are industriously canvassing for him. Narwal’s prospects have also improved after Kapoor Singh withdrew his candidature as an independent at Hooda’s instance. Had Kapoor Singh stayed in the contest, he would have hurt the prospects of the Congress candidate.

Champion wrestler banks on charisma, non-Jat votes

His BJP rival, Yogeshwar Dutt,37, 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. He lost the assembly election by about 4,800 votes to the Congress candidate, Sri Kishan Hooda. 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.

Quotes

Yogeshwar Dutt, BJP

“This battle is to elect an MLA, not a chief minister. Till 2024, ML Khattar will remain the CM. All the political parties have betrayed you. The BJP has carried out development projects worth Rs 500 crore in Baroda constituency. My sole aim is to serve you with honesty in the same way as I did for the nation as a wrestler. I never believed in caste and a wrestler does not belong to any caste.”

Indu Raj Narwal, Congress

“I was born in a poor farmer’s family. I owe my candidature to Bhupinder Singh Hooda and in fact he will be your MLA if I win. This election will set the tone to elect your own government. This is the right time to defeat the anti-farmers’ government, who brought three farm laws against the wishes of the agrarian community. After my win, the BJP government will fall on its own as many MLAs are not happy with functioning of this government.”

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