The fates of 14 candidates, including that of Olympian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, contesting the bypolls to Baroda Assembly constituency in Haryana were sealed Tuesday as 68 per cent voters turned out to exercise their franchise. The polling that started at 7 am concluded peacefully, the Election Commission said, adding the voter turnout figure was likely to be revised.
As per EC data, 68 per cent voting was held till 6 pm. The seat had recorded 69.43 per cent polling in the 2019 Haryana assembly polls. The voting percentage may change as polling data was still being compiled.
Though 14 candidates are in fray, the contest is primarily between Dutt and against Congress’ Indu Raj Narwal aka Bhalu. The Baroda seat has been a stronghold of the Congress party whose MLA Krishan Hooda had won the seat in the 2009, 2014 and 2019 assembly polls. His death in April necessitated the bypoll.
Earlier in the day, Dutt cast his vote after offering prayers at a temple at his village Bhainswal while Indu Raj cast his vote at his native village Rindhana.
With the Election Commission increasing the number of polling booths as a preventive measure amid the coronavirus pandemic and amid the ongoing harvesting of paddy and cotton, there were no long queues of votes at most of the polling stations in this rural constituency.
During the day, there were some rumours regarding presence of hackers. BJP said that rumours started as some party workers were issuing voter slips with the help of a small printer linked with a mobile phone. “The Congress workers suspected the voting process is being hacked as the workers were asking Aadhaar numbers of the voters outside the polling booth to print their voter slip. This was just to facilitate the voters,” said Ram Mehar, a local BJP leader from Dhanana village.
With political parties approaching each and every voter, even the senior citizens were brought to the polling booths. At Dhanana’s polling booth, two family members took Bhale Ram Sharma to the polling booth. Villagers claimed that Sharma is 105 years old and oldest in the village. “I had come to ensure Yogeshwar’s win,” Sharma told The Indian Express.
At Bhanderi village, Ram Mehar Sharma, 63, urged the election officials to allow him to cast vote of his wife Bhagwani, 62. The officials turned down his request but offered a wheelchair for his wife.
The Congress supporters at Madina village wanted to teach a lesson to the ruling BJP for introducing three controversial farm laws. “The protesting farmers were lathi charged at Pipli and Sirsa. What was their fault? There are no fair prices of crops. No development works took place in our constituency during the BJP rule. The Congress candidate will win from Baroda because even during the Modi wave in 2019, (former Chief Minister) Bhupinder Singh Hooda had succeeded to maintain a lead of 17,000 votes from Baroda constituency when he contested the Lok Sabha poll from Sonipat seat,” said Balbir Malik, a Congress supporter. Echoing similar sentiments, Sonu Sabharwal from the same village said, “Earlier, there were demands of generation of new government jobs but now the government employees have to fight to protect their existing jobs.” The residents here were happy with the poll arrangements with the authorities increasing number of polling booths to eight from previous election’s four.
Meanwhile, BJP supporters said they want to be part of the current regime by electing the candidate of the saffron party this time. “It’s a train of double engine, which has government not only in the state but at the Centre too. We don’t want to miss this train. We want developmental works in our constituency,” said Master Ram Mehar, a BJP supporter from Dhanana village. He said Dutt’s clean image will prove beneficial for him.
The political parties’ supporters were seen sitting at a considerable distance from the polling booths. The supporters of INLD candidate Jogender Malik and BJP rebel Raj Kumar Saini too were outside the polling stations but in thin numbers.
Voting in corona times
The election officials had made elaborate arrangements to prevent spread of Covid-19 by offering gloves and masks to the voters apart from arranging sanitiser for them. The masks were to be given to only those voters who reached the polling booths without one on. But with it coming free, many voters were seen asking the health workers for extra masks. By 8.30 am, the health officials had run out of masks at a polling booth in village Kathura. “The woman voters used their chunari as a mask and only male voters asked for free masks,” said a health worker at the polling booth. Any person who had fever when they reached polling station, were asked to cast votes during last one hour of the polling.
Social customs and women voters
With it primarily being a rural assembly constituency, women were coming to the polling booths while covering their face with veil. “This is a rural area where we have to follow social customs. A change in the mindset will take long time,” said Manju Narwal, 29, who came to the polling booth covering her face. Manju has done her MPhil in Hindi from Kurukshetra University and now lives with her advocate husband at neighbouring Gohana town. She had come to Kathura, which is native place of her husband, to cast her vote.
With increasing literacy rate, several villagers have now enrolled their daughters as voters. One such voter was Ravina, 22, who has completed her BCom. “When we were young, the parents used to think there is no need to enrol the daughters as voters in their parental village because they have to go to house of their in-laws later or sooner. But now daughters are being enrolled as voters by their parents,” said Raveena’s mother Sunita Devi, 50.
A woman from village Meena Narwal was poll agent for Congress candidate at a booth. Normally, only male activists of the political parties take this responsibility, especially in the rural areas of Haryana. “I have interest in the politics. I didn’t want to stay at home especially on the day of voting,” said Narwal, 40, who has been a member of village panchayat too.
Congress complains against history-sheeter
The Congress Tuesday filed a complaint against a history-sheeter alleging he entered a polling booth at Madina village when the voting process was on. In its complaint to the Election Commission, the Congress said the history-sheeter tried to influence the voters. On the other hand, former BJP minister Manish Grover said the Congress has levelled false allegations against him too. “It appears the Congress is anticipating its defeat and that’s why its upset,” said Grover.
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