Haryana Baroda Bypoll: Has BJP’s Obsession With Non-Jat Politics Set It Up For A Big Defeat?

Haryana Baroda Bypoll: Has BJP’s Obsession With Non-Jat Politics Set It Up For A Big Defeat? Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Snapshot
  • If the BJP had gone with the local Jat candidate this time, it could have put a decent fight.

    As things stand today, its obsession with non-Jat politics, even in seats like Baroda, where almost 55 per cent voters are Jats, has set it up for a loss.

If people were to visit the Baroda assembly constituency (which falls under Sonipat Lok Sabha in Haryana), they could be mistaken into believing that statewide election campaigning is underway and none less than the post of Chief Minister is being decided.

But no, it’s just a by-election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has deployed its top ministers, MLAs and even leaders from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh to canvas for the party’s candidate. Congress is also not leaving anything to chance.

Earlier, one witnessed similar enthusiasm in the Jind bypoll but since it was held just before the Lok Sabha election last year, one could understand the logic behind it. Of course, all the parties in any election want their cadre to be energised to the maximum so that they work hard to get more and more votes out in favour of their candidates.

The bypoll is scheduled to be held in Baroda for 3 November. It was necessitated after the death of sitting Congress MLA Krishan Hooda, who won from the seat thrice in a row (2009, 2014 and 2019). Hooda was not a local of Baroda or even of the Sonipat district in which the seat falls. In fact, he hailed from the neighbouring district, Rohtak.

In 2009, he was parachuted from there by the then chief minister Bhupinder Hooda. When Congress high command in 2005 had appointed Bhupinder Hooda, the then Lok Sabha MP from Rohtak, as chief hinister of Haryana, Krishan Hooda vacated his seat of Kiloi for him. Bhupinder Hooda continues to represent Kiloi until today.

Though Krishan Hooda won from Baroda in three consecutive elections (with decreasing vote share and victory margin), he wasn’t wildly popular. All three victories came riding on the coattails of Bhupinder Hooda’s immense popularity. Him being an outsider was also a big liability. Many local leaders in Baroda had left Congress as they were being constantly ignored for the MLA ticket which was being given to someone who wasn’t even from their area.

2009 election result (Baroda)
2009 election result (Baroda)

So, when it came to giving the ticket this time, it wasn’t easy for Congress to find a good candidate from within the party.

In the beginning, Bhupinder Hooda wanted to give the ticket to Krishan Hooda’s son but the locals told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t acceptable and they wouldn’t back an outsider again. Bhupinder Hooda had to back down.

Krishan Hooda’s son then approached Haryana Congress unit chief Kumari Selja who is close to Sonia Gandhi and national spokesperson of Congress Randeep Surjewala who is close to Rahul Gandhi for the ticket. Both, no well-wisher of Bhupinder Hooda, also advocated giving the ticket to Krishan Hooda’s son simply because he was no longer seen in the former CM’s camp.

Then Bhupinder Hooda turned to Kapoor Narwal, who fought from Baroda on Indian National Lok Dal’s (INLD’s) ticket and came second in 2009 and 2014. Narwal is reportedly close to Hooda but the problem was he had shifted from INLD to the BJP. However, he was willing to switch to Congress if given the ticket.

2014 election result (Baroda)
2014 election result (Baroda)

In the end, neither Kapoor Narwal nor Krishan Hooda’s son prevailed. The party decided to go with Induraj Narwal as a compromise. Kapoor Narwal, who holds a big sway in the region, then filed nomination papers to contest independently. BJP has again fielded Olympian and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt who lost to Krishan Hooda last year by a razor thin margin of about 4,800 votes.

2019 election result (Baroda)
2019 election result (Baroda)

The decision by the BJP to repose faith in Dutt, a Brahmin, in Baroda, a seat where around 55 per cent of the voters are Jats, may appear strange to many but is very much in line with its non-Jat politics that it has championed since coming to power in 2014. In 2019, it almost won this seat thanks to split in Jat votes between Congress’ Krishan Hooda and Jannayak Janta Party’s (JJP’s) Bhupinder Malik.

The BJP was hoping that something similar would happen again and decided to go with Dutt, ignoring a strong candidate like Kapoor Narwal who had joined the BJP last year just before the assembly elections. Further, the BJP hoped that its alliance with the JJP will help it in getting some Jat votes as well. However, all these calculations have fallen flat for various reasons.

First, JJP which got third place in last election and 32,000 odd votes in Baroda has lost some ground in the region due to alliance with the BJP, something that a section of its vote bank has taken as a stab in its back. After all, the JJP had contested on an anti-BJP plank. In fact, there is so much anger against the JJP in some places that the Chautala brothers, Dushyant and Digvijay, are shying away from campaigning for the BJP candidate.

Second, Baroda is an overwhelmingly rural seat where farmers matter and due to three farm laws enacted by the Centre, there is a lot of anger against the BJP-JJP government in Haryana. Congress has been able to paint these reforms as anti-farmer successfully. The fact that paddy farmers are getting low rate in mandis for their crops compared to last year hasn’t helped and has strengthened suspicion on the ground that this is due to the farm laws. This is obviously not true but perception matters in politics.

Third, independent candidate Kapoor Narwal who was supposed to cut Jat votes and help the BJP has withdrawn from the race after Narwal Khap and Bhupinder Hooda intervened and convinced him to do so. This has effectively ensured that there will be near consolidation of Jat votes in favour of the Congress candidate. Though INLD’s Joginder Malik is also a Jat but he could only get 3,000 odd votes last time and isn’t likely to score much this time either.

Fourth, Raj Kumar Saini, former BJP MP from Kurukshetra and the man responsible for singlehandedly spooling BJP’s relations with Jats, is also contesting from Baroda. Saini had left the BJP and formed his own party in 2018. With his vitriolic rhetoric, he has carved out a significant standing among the other backward classes including his own Saini community. He had contested from the neighbouring Gohana constituency in 2019 and lost by only 4,100 odd votes. His presence will further hurt the BJP’s chances as both will be vying for the non-Jat vote.

If the BJP had gone with Kapoor Narwal this time, it could have put a decent fight but in the current scenario, as things stand today, the BJP’s mindless obsession with non-Jat politics even in seats like Baroda, where almost 55 per cent voters are Jats, has set it up for a humiliating defeat. It appears that the party leadership in the state hasn’t learnt any lessons from the results of the last assembly election.

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