It has been pitched as a fight for prestige between the BJP-JJP’s alliance Olympian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt and Congress debutant Induraj Narwal aka Bhalu, but for many in Baroda, where bypoll is scheduled for November 3, the bigger question is how many votes will BJP rebel Raj Kumar Saini and INLD’s Jogender Malik get.
“Mathematics is simple. Whatever number of votes Saini gets in the byelection, it will be a clear loss to the BJP. Similarly, Malik will eat into Bhalu’s votes in this caste-centric election. Everybody here knows that there is a direct fight between Dutt and Bhalu but the share of votes secured by Saini and Malik have the capability to disturb their calculations,” says Anil Dehraj, a scheduled caste youth, sitting with a group of villagers at Kheri Chhichharana village of the constituency.
The ruling BJP-JJP alliance pitched its campaign on the achievements of its government amid counter attacks by the Opposition Congress, especially on the issues of farmers, but as Baroda gears up to elect its next representative, caste is slowly taking centrestage in this Jat-dominated Assembly constituency. Dutt belongs to Brahmin community while Bhalu is from Jat community.
Saini, a former BJP MP who is known for his politics of non-Jats, had formed his own political outfit — the Loktantra Suraksha Party (LJP) — in 2018. Though, the LJP could not taste success in 2019 Assembly polls, but he entered the fray this time to make his presence felt.
“Saini will get votes of a section of scheduled castes and backward communities,” says Dehraj.
With villagers debating number of expected votes, JJP MLA Ram Kumar Gautam lands in the village to seek votes for Dutt. Gautam blames Saini for spreading casteism, an allegation the former MP has been terming baseless. Gautam claims that people will cast their votes without falling in the trap of casteism. However, Gautam’s repeated targetting of Saini was sufficient to make it apparent that the ruling BJP-JJP alliance was taking the former MP’s candidature seriously, especially if caste factor dominates the mood of voters on the poll day.
On the other hand, Congress’s worry is Indian National Lok Dal candidate Jogender Malik, who is also from Jat community. Many in the constituency believe that the Congress may get a lion’s share of the Jat votebank while Dutt can hope for similar share from the non-Jats.
“INLD candidate may not get significant votes this time,” says Chaman Bagri, a supporter of Congress. But a woman Krishan Devi, who is from Jat community, interrupts, “No, no. This is not true. We will vote for Malik,” she insists.
The bypolls was necessitated following the demise of Congress MLA Shri Krishan Hooda, who had won the seat three consecutive times. In last year’s Assembly elections, Sri Krishan had defeated BJP candidate Yogeshwar Dutt by a margin of 4,840 votes. The candidate of Jannayak Janata Party too had secured significant votes. However, later the JJP joined hands with the BJP to form alliance government in the state.
The supporters of BJP in villages highlight the issue of “fair recruitment in government jobs in the BJP rule”. “I was selected for group-D job without any sifarish,” says a youth from Dhanak community.
But Congress supporters recall developmental works carried out during former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s 10-year rule. “Hooda to mhara bhai se (Hooda is our brother),” says Rajbir Narwal, from Kathura village.
Baroda constituency shares boundary with Garhi Sampla Kiloi seat from where Bhupinder Hooda had registered the highest victory margin of 58,213 votes against BJP’s Satish Nandal in 2019 polls. Not only this, the former CM’s native village is also situated in the close proximity of Baroda constituency’s villages.
There were hardly any flags, posters and banners in Kheri Chhichhrana village with the locals saying that the police don’t allow such material near the roads. However, there were flags and posters in every corner of village Kathura. A Congress supporter Jasbir Narwal of Kathura had even erected party flags in his fields. “This makes our fields attractive. Further, the wild animals also won’t enter our fields with such flags,” says Jasbir Narwal. The farmer, however, is apprehensive about the three farm laws. “We fear that the government won’t procure our wheat crop next year,” he says.
On the other hand, Dehraj says, “There is just one issue of chaudhar (dominance). If Bhalu wins from here, Hooda’s chaudhar will continue here. But if the Congress loses the poll battle, Hooda will lose his chaudhar.”