The battle for the Baroda constituency in Haryana’s Sonepat district has become much more than an ordinary bypoll, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party deputing a number of state ministers to campaign for its nominee - wrestler-turned-politician Yogeshwar Dutt.
On the other hand, the Congress campaign has been led largely by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son and former Rohtak MP Deepender Singh Hooda, with Pradesh Congress chief Kumari Selja also pitching in.
The Hoodas want to retain their bastion, the BJP wants to wrest it at all costs and hence the high profile battle. Baroda votes along with the second phase of polling in Bihar, on 3 November.
How Hooda Made Baroda a Congress Bastion
Baroda constituency in Haryana’s Sonepat district used to be an anti-Congress seat, dominated by the Lok Dal and later its breakaway Indian National Lok Dal of Om Prakash Chautala.
However, this changed with the rising dominance of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in state politics. Hooda came to become the tallest Jat leader in the Deswali region, comprising Rohtak, Sonepat and Jhajjar districts, challenging the overall dominance of the Chautalas over Jat politics in Haryana.
Under Hooda, Baroda became a Congress bastion, falling as it does in his area of influence. So after losing the seat continuously for three decades beginning 1977, the Congress finally won it in 2009 under Hooda's chief ministership.
The Congress managed to win the seat even in the debacle of the 2014 Assembly elections. The candidate who won the Baroda for the Congress in 2009, 2014 and 2019 was Shri Krishan Hooda, a close supporter of Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Shri Krishan Hooda's demise earlier this year has necessitated a bypoll in the seat and it is not surprising that Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Deepender Hooda are sparing no effort to retain their bastion. The party has fielded Induraj Narwal, former Sonepat district Congress president, a relatively low profile candidate.
BJP Plays Non-Jat Card Through Yogeshwar Dutt
The ruling BJP led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is also desperate to wrest Baroda from the Congress for two reasons.
- First, it would bring the BJP's tally in the Haryana Assembly to 41, just four short of the halfway mark. This would further reduce its dependence on the Jannayak Janata Party of Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala. The BJP already has the support of a few Independent MLAs.
- Second, it would give the BJP a seat in the heart of Hoodas' area of dominance.
Continuing with its strategy of consolidating non-Jat voters, the BJP has fielded wrestler-turned-politician Yogeshwar Dutt, a Brahmin, from the seat. Dutt had contested from Baroda even in the 2019 Assembly polls but lost to Shri Krishan Hooda.
By putting up a high profile candidate like Dutt, the BJP has made this a battle of prestige with the Hoodas.
However playing non-Jat politics in a seat like Baroda is easier said than done. Jats account for close to 50 percent of the electorate in the seat. The second largest demographic group in the seat are Dalits at between 15-20 percent. The BJP has historically been weaker among both Dalits and Jats in Haryana.
The JJP is officially supposed to be supporting BJP's Yogeshwar Dutt, but it appears to be caught in two minds. On one hand, Dushyant Chautala would like to see the Hoodas cut to size, on the other hand, BJP's win would significantly erode his bargaining power in the government.
The JJP polled 26 percent votes in 2019 compared to 34 percent of the Congress and 30 percent of the BJP. Which way these votes go would be key.
BJP hopes that JJP’s support would ensure a transfer of votes but that’s easier said than done.
JJP’s support mostly came from the Jat community, which could very well shift to the Congress or even the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
INLD Could Play Spoiler
The third party in the race is the INLD led by Dushyant Chautala's uncle Abhay Singh Chautala.
The INLD has fielded Joginder Singh Malik from the seat. Malik got just a little over 3,000 votes during the Assembly elections. The INLD is also being supported by the Azad Samaj Party of Bhim Army founder Chandraskhekhar Azad. Azad also campaigned for the INLD in the bypoll and the party hopes to win over a section of the Jatav Dalit votes through him.
Relying on some Jat and Jatav support, the INLD is likely to eat into the Congress' votes as well as a section of the JJP votes as the latter isn't contesting.
However, with the Hoodas being the dominant Jat leaders in the region, the Congress is confident of winning the seat.
The last minute defection of BJP's Jat face from the area Kapoor Narwal has also given a shot in the arm to the Congress. Narwal quit the BJP and was contesting as an Independent but later withdrew in support of the Congress. Narwal was also being considered for the Congress ticket but the proposal is said to have been vetoed by senior party leader Kumari Selja.
MSP Issue Gains Importance
A major issue in this election is the outrage against the agriculture legislations passed by the Narendra Modi government. Punjab and Haryana have been the epicentre of the farmers’ protests against the laws. Baroda is predominantly agrarian and therefore the new laws could work against the BJP in this seat.
The issue of unemployment, which was important during last year's Assembly polls, has become even more salient now, especially among younger voters.
However, there's one issue that could potentially go against the Congress - the murder of Nikita Tomar allegedly by a person from a Congress family. However, this doesn’t seem to have emerged as a major election issue.
In the end, the battle may end up being between the Hoodas’ dominance and farmers’ anger on one hand and CM Manohar Lal Khattar's non-Jat politics on the other.