“Do you know why MLAs, ministers and the Chief Minister are campaigning in Karnal Municipal Corporation (polls)?” Asha Wadhwa, 43, an Independent mayoral candidate, asks from her supporters at Chaman Garden locality of Karnal.
“Wo isliye aaye huan hai ki Karnal se ye seat na nikal jaye, aur Asha Wadhwa ye seat na le jaye (They fear losing Karnal Mayor’s seat and want to prevent my win here),” says Wadhwa amid slogans of “Hamari Mayor kaisi ho-Asha Wadhwa jaisi ho (We want Asha Wadhwa as our Mayor)”.
Karnal is the home town of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who also represents Karnal in the state Assembly. Many believe that Karnal was named after the king Karna of Mahabharata era. With all opposition parties, including Congress, the INLD-BSP alliance, backing Wadhwa, the BJP is not taking any chances in the election.
Haryana ministers Nayab Saini, Karan Dev Kamboj and Manish Grover and BJP MLAs Bakshshish Singh Virk and Subhash Sudha have campaigned for BJP mayoral candidate and outgoing Mayor Renu Bala. Even Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Thursday addressed four public meetings in support of Renu Bala Gupta, a member of the Aggarwal community. Earlier, he had held meetings for two days in her support. The Mayor’s seat is reserved for a woman.
On Wednesday evening, Karan Dev Kamboj, Minister of State for Food and Supplies, spoke to voters at a house in Vasant Vihar, a colony situated on the outskirts of Karnal town, and sought support for Renu Bala. He also declared that a local INLD leader, Satbir Khatkar, has joined the BJP. “I have addressed several meetings today. We are seeking votes in the name of development works,” Kamboj told The Indian Express. But Asha Wadhwa, in her public meetings, hits back, saying “Had they (BJP) executed development works, the Chief Minister would not be campaigning here….It’s not the election of MP or MLA but just civic body polls.”
Echoing similar sentiments, a Sikh community member Parminder Kaur, who hosted tea for Wadhwa at her home, said, “What is the benefit of newly introduced 58 e-toilets here? They are either found locked or non-functional.”
Wadhwa is wife of former Deputy Mayor Manoj Wadhwa, who had contested Assembly poll on INLD ticket against Khattar in 2014. She doesn’t forget to tell voters how “her husband being Deputy Mayor introduced the concept of open gyms in local parks”.
On the other side, inclusion of Karnal in Smart City Project and in NCR during BJP regime is one among the top achievements which are counted by Renu Bala. But caste factor appears more important than of development works here. Wadhwa, an MCom and a mother of two sons, is from Punjabi community maximum voters (53,453) out of total voters 2.46 lakh in Karnal Municipal Corporation area. Wadhwa supporters feel that she will get maximum support from Punjabi voters “because the community would like to have a Mayor from their community as local MLA (CM Khattar) and MP (Ashwini Chopra) are already from the community”.
However, Renu Bala supporters say that “the Punjabis will caste votes for development not on caste considerations”. Karnal, which is situated on National Highway-44, has a literacy rate of 74.73 per cent. Traditionally, BJP has been getting lion share from the Punjabi voters here. Khattar had won the 2014 Assembly poll from here by a margin of 63,773 votes while securing 82,485 votes.
INLD candidate Manaj Wadhwa had remained third while securing 17,685 votes. An Independent candidate and former minister Jai Prakash Gupta, who had secured 18,712 votes in 2014 Assembly polls, is supporting Asha Wadhwa in mayoral poll. “Wadhwa will get benefit of caste equations here. Our BSP cadre (Dalits) will support her. And you know about the cadre of INLD also which would also support her,” says Sunita Sabharwal, BSP Karnal district coordinator who is campaigning for her
According to sources, Karnal Municipal Corporation has 45,220 voters from Scheduled Castes, 62,243 voters from Backward Castes, 21,480 Aggarwal (Baniya) voters, 17,561 Brahmin voters and 13,918 Rors and 12,423 Jats.
To take on Khattar on his turf, former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ganaur MLA and former Assembly Speaker Kuldeep Sharma, a Karnal resident, two time Congress MLA from Karnal Sumita Singh, INLD state president Ashok Arora and BSP state chief Prakash Bharti have already backed Asha Wadhwa.
Many believe that while Renu Bala with her clean image is a strong contender for mayoral post, but it would have been difficult for the BJP to take on joint candidate of opposition parties here. Speaking to The Indian Express, Haryana BJP general secretary Ved Pal said, “There is no dissent in BJP in MC polls and all are unitedly working for the party candidate.”
Meanwhile, to woo voters the mayoral candidates here have been making promises like free WiFi facility for the residents, better health, education and sanitation facilities, GPS (global positioning system) in buses, CCTV cameras across the town, among others.
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