Other States

Baroda bypoll: a battle of prestige

Less than a year after the voters in Haryana gave a fractured mandate paving the way for the formation of a coalition government, the State is again in the grip of election fever with the Baroda Assembly seat in Sonipat falling vacant due to the demise of Congress MLA Sri Krishan Hooda earlier this year.

Though the result of the bypoll is unlikely to have any bearing on the stability of the State government, the battle in Hoodas’ bastion — the Jhajjar-Rohtak-Sonipat belt — is being seen as a prestige battle for the family. While a decisive win here would, no doubt, reassert Hoodas’ firm grip over their stronghold, any adverse result, close on the heels of the defeat for the father-son duo in the Lok Sabha election last year, would sure be a political setback.

Opportunity for BJP

Sounding cautious, the Bharatiya Janata Party maintains that the bypoll is an “opportunity” for them and a “litmus test” for the Congress, which has been holding the seat for the past 15 years. Though an addition to the BJP’s tally would push it a step closer to the simple majority mark in the Assembly, it could be a cause for concern for its coalition partner, the Jannayak Janta Party.

The caste composition of the voters, around 50% are Jats, worries the BJP and the coalition is trying hard to prevent the division of votes along caste-lines to stand any chance in the election. However, a heavyweight Jat BJP rebel, Kapoor Narwal, withdrawing his nomination as an Independent in support of the Hoodas has tilted the scales in favour of the Congress.

The JJP could make a dent in the Congress’ Jat vote, but the party may not be very keen on transferring its votes to the BJP for obvious reason. The JJP candidate had stood third in the previous Assembly election with over 32,000 votes and the Chautalas are in great demand for canvassing in the region.

Besides, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Loktantra Suraksha Party are also in the fray along with 20 other candidates, but it is expected to be a direct contest between the two national parties.

Being held in the backdrop of the protests over the farm legislations in the State, the Congress has weaved a narrative around the discontent among the peasantry in this predominantly rural Assembly segment and the “failure” of the government on various fronts, including employment, crime, and development, also occasionally appealing to the regional sentiments with a call for “pride of Baroda”.

The Hoodas, seeking votes for party candidate Induraj Narwal, say the result would herald a new course of politics in the State and be a referendum on the present government.

Sanctions projects

The BJP, with the advantage of being in the power, has sanctioned projects worth ₹165 crore over the past four months and has accused the Hoodas of neglecting the region during the Congress rule as a major poll plank. Chief Minister Manohar Lal also promised a “participation in the governance” for the region hinting at a ministerial berth for the party candidate in case of a win.

The coalition also hopes to benefit from the popularity and stature of its wrestler candidate Yogeshwar Dutt, an Olympic medallist, calling the Congress candidate “dummy” and “non-entity”.

However, senior coalition leaders making personal attacks on the Hoodas, who have been spearheading the Congress campaign, in their speeches make it a contest between the government and the latter more than an electoral battle between the two parties.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:56:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/baroda-bypoll-a-battle-of-prestige/article32999450.ece

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