Congress gains ground; BJP, ally on back foot

The Grand Old Party apparently succeeded in mustering the support of the anguished farmers, who have been opposing the new farm laws, reports Rajesh Moudgil

Riding high on the farmers’ anguish against the farm laws, the Congress has been consistently gaining ground in Haryana as has immensely been indicated by the recent civic bodies’ poll results. The ruling BJP-Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) coalition received a setback as it could win only one of the three mayoral seats of Panchkula municipal corporation (MC). The Ambala mayoral seat was won by Haryana Jan Chetna Party (HJCP) and Sonepat’s by Congress. Also, the BJP won the Panchkula seat but with a narrow margin.

The HJCP candidate Shakti Rani Sharma, who won the Ambala seat is the wife of former Congress leader and Union minister Venod Sharma, who had floated HJCP a few years ago. It was the first time that the direct elections were held for the said post.

In the elections of four municipal councils also held along with the three MCs, an independent candidate backed by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda won the Sampla MC president’s election while the JJP candidate lost in Uklana. The Dharuhera seat was won by an independent candidate while the BJP’s candidate won the Rewari MC president’s poll.

This was the second time in about two months’ time that the ruling BJP-JJP faced the humiliation at the hustings as in November only, the ruling combine failed to win the Baroda assembly byelection in Sonepat which was retained by Congress. Though the BJP had swept mayoral polls in five cities two years, this time, it is the Congress which has shown it has gained ground in the urban areas too.

In Baroda bypoll, the candidate of the BJP-JJP combine, Olympic wrestling medallist Yogeshwar Dutt,  was trounced by the Congress’ a first-timer Indu Raj Narwal by a margin of over 10,000 votes. For BJP and its ally JJP both, the defeat came as a humiliation as not only had the coalition lost a seat but also Dutt who had lost the 2019 assembly poll by about 4,800 votes to the then Congress candidate Shri Krishan Hooda, getting a drubbing with more than double the margin by someone who fought his first election.

The seat had fallen vacant due to the death of Congress MLA Shri Krishan Hooda, who had won from here thrice in a row since 2009. With this win though, the Congress’ tally remains unchanged at 31 in the Haryana Vidhan sabha.

While BJP has 40 MLAs, its ally JJP, 10, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Haryana Lokhit Party have one each and there are seven independent MLAs in the Haryana assembly which has 90 members. Haryana gave a fractured mandate paving the way for the BJP-JJP coalition government post-2019 elections.

Baroda has traditionally been a Congress stronghold since the past about 15 years and an INLD bastion earlier. Baroda was a reserved seat till 2005 and a fortress of the INLD before the Congress won it thrice since 2009.

The Congress (read Hooda) picked up former Sonepat Zila Parishad member Indu Raj Narwal who has won the seat. Seven independents and four candidates belonging to other parties, including former Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini, a BJP rebel, who heads the Loktantra Suraksha Party, got 5,611 votes and lost his deposit) but severely upset the BJP-JJP’s candidate’s prospects. The INLD candidate Joginder Malik, who polled 5,003 votes and also lost his deposits finished fourth.

Anger against farm laws

Held in the backdrop of the protests over the farm laws in the state, the Congress, evidently enough, succeeded in mustering the support of the anguished farmers in the Baroda constituency which is a predominantly rural area. The alleged failure of the government on various fronts, including employment, crime and development, also remained main planks of the Congress.

Besides, the withdrawal of their nominations by two independent candidates, Kapoor Narwal and Joginder Mor, who being Jat candidates, who could otherwise affect Congress prospects, however, gave an added advantage to Indu Raj in this Jat dominated seat. Kapoor Narwal, a BJP rebel and a heavyweight Jat BJP withdrawing his nomination Hoodas did tilt the scales in favour of the Congress.

The BJP rebel Raj Kumar Saini who was in the fray and polled 5,595 votes also apparently caused a major dent in the BJP-JJP’s candidate’s prospects.

Dr Rajender Sharma, head, political science, MDU, Rohtak, explains how Jat votes did not split and the voters majorly favoured Congress’ candidate having bright prospects in a fight between a Jat and a non-Jat candidate.

Political observers also view the recent civic body polls results as the reflection of urban voters’ displeasure over not only the recent farm laws but also various other economic issues. “The results of these elections show the disapproval of not only the farmers but also the trading community and the urban voters. It shows the BJP and its ally have not been able to gain much support for their policies in the state’’, adds Dr Sharma.

Kudos to Hooda

That Narwal was just a first-timer and handpicked by Hooda, was an open secret. The political observers say that while the Congress sought to retain the seat the BJP hoped to make history as the seat has never been won by the saffron party.

Hence, a battle of prestige for both — Hooda as this Jat-dominated constituency is bang adjacent to his own Garhi-Sampla Kiloi seat in Rohtak and the ruling BJP-JJP. The win thus showcases Hooda’s firm grip over his stronghold. A result otherwise, would have shown a major political setback to not only the Congress but also for the Hooda family, for, his son, Deepender Hooda, who was MP from Rohtak, had lost the Lok Sabha election last year.

Embarrassment to BJP-JJP

Even though Baroda had never been won by BJP, the defeat came as an embarrassment for it and its ally JJP as they failed to woo the voters with farm laws as well as government’s initiatives for the development of the state.

More so, the two parties which had fought the previous election in this seat separately, could not garner the number of votes they did in 2019. The defeat came despite the JJP having the rural roots and claiming to be pro-farmers.

Importantly enough, the Sonepat Lok Sabha seat (Baroda is one of the nine assembly segments of Sonepat parliamentary constituency) had sent BJP’s Ramesh Kaushik to parliament and defeated JJP’s youth leader and deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala’s younger brother Digvijay Chautala — he lost his security deposit — and even Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a veteran Jat leader and two-time chief minister of Haryana, too in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

However, Saini, who had rode the 2014 Narendra Modi wave to be an MP, had floated his Loktantra Suraksha Party parted ways with the saffron party after the Jat quota agitation turned violent in 2016 while he espoused the cause of backward classes (BCs). His rhetoric comprised a vitriolic attack on Jats and the BJP’s stance on the issue of the quota issue. A rebel Saini has also thus fought various elections since.