In a major embarrassment for the ruling dispensation in Haryana, Congress candidate Indu Raj Narwal, whom the BJP-JJP alliance termed a “nobody”, won the bypoll to Baroda Assembly constituency with a thumping margin over Olympian wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt. Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son Deepender, who spearheaded Narwal’s campaign, heled retain the Congress citadel. The victory margin of Congress candidate was 10,566 votes – more than double the party candidate Sri Krishan Hooda’s victory margin in 2019 assembly polls.
The bypoll was necessitated folliwing the death of Sri Krishan Hooda, who had won the constituency thrice in 2009, 2014 and 2019.
The bypoll verdict comes as an eye-opener for the ruling alliance in the state, especially for the BJP. The party that created history in 2014 by winning 47 out of 90 seats slipped to 40 in 2019. Almost entire Cabinet, except Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Minister Anil Vij, got wiped out in 2019. And now an year after that, the ruling alliance lost the bypoll.
The ongoing farmers agitation against the three central farm legislations, Jat voters’ anger against JJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala for getting into a post-poll alliance with the BJP, Hoodas’ personal connect with the constituency and the veteran leader’s slogan that “Baroda’s verdict is going to shake the foundation of the ruling alliance in Haryana” were among the major factors that worked in Congress’ favour.
BJP infused all its power and resources in the constituency, besides a star-studded campaign and a youth-icon candidate. However, people of Baroda rejected the ruling alliance and reposed their faith in Hooda-led opposition. Right from Union ministers to all the 10 Members of Parliament, BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankar, former ministers Rambilas Sharma and Capt Abhimanyu, former state BJP chief Subhash Barala apart from Khattar and Dushyant led a hectic month-long campaign in the constituency.
BJP-JJP leaders kept attempting to woo the voters alluring them with the assurances that if Baroda elects the alliance’s candidate, the state government, which still has four years of its tenure left, would shower the constituency with unprecedented development. On completion of it’s one year in power on October 27, the alliance held statewide celebrations and Khattar announced projects worth hundreds of crores of rupees for state’s development. However, people of the constituency yet chose a leader from the opposition party.
The people in Baroda also did not give much credence to the personal attacks on Hooda and Deepender, wherein Khattar and various other BJP-JJP leaders called Congress in Haryana a “baapu-beta party”.
It was also former Cabinet minister and senior BJP leader Om Prakash Dhankar’s first test as state BJP chief. However, reacting to Baroda’s results, Dhankar said that “it was always a Congress seat”. “It was an opportunity for us, but we could not convert it into an achievement. We accept the mandate. As far as government is concerned, it (result) will; have no effect. Earlier too, Congress MLA used to occupy this seat,” Dhankar said, adding, “People will not forgive Congress for campaigning against a renowned sportsperson like Yogeshwar Dutt, who had brought so many laurels for Haryana and our entire nation”.
BJP lacked confidence right from the beginning. Since the campaign began, BJP’s senior leaders including Khattar and Dhankar kept saying that “it was an opportunity for BJP-JJP but a challenge for Congress to retain Baroda”. After the polling concluded on November 3, Khattar even said that “whatever the verdict will be, it is not going to be a referendum on the state government. It is only one constituency and shall not impact the state government”. All such statements indicated that the ruling alliance was expecting a mandate not in its favour.
Thanking the people of Baroda, Bhupinder Hooda said, “People of Baroda have shown that they have dismissed this government’s fake promises. Farmers of Haryana have given us an immense courage to continue our struggle against the three central farm legislations. Each and every section of the society, be it farmers, labourers, traders, employees and youth – all are out on the roads and protesting against this government’s anti-people policies”.
Deepender Hooda added, “The ruling alliance adopted all possible methods to buy the voters, be it money, liquor, free ration and gas cylinders. Yet, people of Baroda voted for Congress”.
State Congress chief Kumari Selja said, “It is a victory of the people of Haryana. It is the verdict that people have given against the three black laws that the BJP government has made against the farmers. People of Baroda have shown that they are fed up with this BJP-JJP government’s anti-people policies. The countdown of this BJP-JJP government in Haryana has begun”.
Earlier, Dushyant Chautala tweeted, “Wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt took everybody along and contested the Baroda Vidhan Sabha bypoll. Victory-defeat are part of life and politics. I congratulate Baroda’s new legislator Induraj Narwal. I expect that he shall ensure constituency’s speedy development”.
Hooda’s image within Congress gets a boost
Baroda bypoll verdict is definitely going to give Hooda’s image a major boost within Congress. In August, Hooda was among the 23 senior Congress leaders who had written to AICC chief Sonia Gandhi seeking major overhaul in the party’s structure. Two months later, the party high command gave Hooda a free-hand to choose the candidate for Baroda bypoll. Although Hooda initially wanted old loyalist Kapoor Narwal as party’s nominee, but due to his party-hopper image, Selja and other party leaders objected. Indu Raj Narwal, a close aide of Deepender, was the second name recommended by Hooda that got a go ahead. No central leader from Congress came to Haryana for campaigning. Selja and Haryana Congress incumbent and former MLAs did campaign for the party’s nominee but Hooda and Deepender primarily led the entire campaign. Kapoor Narwal, who had filed nomination as an independent candidate could have damaged Congress’ prospects, but Hooda played a strategic move and managed to pacify Kapoor, made him withdraw the nomination and got him on his side. Narwals comprise a substantial votebank in Baroda constituency with several villages dominated by this caste.
In 2019 Assembly polls too, Hooda had been demanding a free hand that was not given to him and several other senior Haryana Congress leaders managed to push their candidates. In a rebellion mode since mid-2019, Hooda had been demanding party high command to declare him as the party’s CM nominee, but by the time he was declared as party’s face for Assembly polls, it was too late. Yet, Hooda managed to secure 31 seats in the 90-member House and emerged as the main opposition party.
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