SONIPAT: In the Jat heartland of Sonipat , local issues and grievances are missing in poll pitches. It’s caste polarisation that is playing out in all six seats of the district.
About 40km from Delhi, Sonipat has traditionally been a stronghold of Jat leaders from Congress and INLD. In 2016, the district was at the centre of Jat agitation, which had left the region divided along caste lines, and whose effects were seen in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when voters overwhelmingly went with BJP. But political observers argue that assembly polls are a different ballgame, where national discourse and the image of central leaders are likely to make little dent.
Although BJP has strategically fielded Jat and non-Jat candidates wherever suitable, a visit to a few villages suggested the electoral mood is not overwhelmingly in favour of the ruling party in many of them. Rai appears to incline towards BJP, but the party is set for a tight contest in Sonipat. In Gohana, Baroda, Ganaur and Kharkhoda, Congress seems to have an edge. In Baroda and Gohana, JJP and LSP may also eat away a section of votes.
“Barring Rai, Congress looks strong in all other seats. In Sonipat, it’s going to be a tough fight between BJP and Congress. Congress’s Surender Pawar is a people’s leader and has significant goodwill among voters. But, Sonipat is an urban constituency, with Brahmins, Baniyas, and Punjabis also making up the electorate. So, the chances for BJP’s Kavita Jain can’t be brushed aside,” said Karnal-based political expert Kushal Pal.
The contest in Sonipat, in particular, is quite interesting — it is a seat where non-Jat votes go on to decide the winner. While BJP is looking to consolidate Baniya, Brahmin, and Punjabi votes, Congress, too, is eyeing a major chunk of the Dalit electorate.
Here, BJP’s Kavita Jain will be in for a tough contest from Surender Pawar of Congress, who wields considerable influence among casual labourers and farmers. Rightly so, BJP’s campaign in Sonipat is centred more on Kavita Jain’s husband and influential leader Rajiv Jain, who is believed to have a say with industrialists and the service class.
Where Pawar may have an upper hand this time is the social work and philanthropic activities he has been engaged with — distributing free helmets after the new MV Act kicked in, organising religious tours for economically weaker sections and providing water-coolers to vendors and shopkeepers. His rallies have been drawing large crowds and many residents have told TOI they prefer going to Pawar’s grievance redress meetings despite he not being in power.
“Traditionally, we have voted BJP. But this time, we are considering Pawar seriously. We have a meeting scheduled two-three days before the polling day, when influential people from our community would weigh the options. Whatever is decided at the meeting, 70-80% of Brahmins will abide by it,” noted Naresh Pandit, a businessman.
In Baroda, however, the contest is three-pronged, with JJP fielding Bhupinder Mallik, who was denied a ticket by Congress. Predominantly a Jat-majority seat, Baroda also has a significant population from the Mallik community. With Mallik in the fray, the Jat votes of Congress are likely to split, giving BJP a chance to fight in what is otherwise believed to be a one-sided contest.
Keeping the caste arithmetic in mind, BJP has fielded a Brahmin candidate, Yogeshwar Dutt, a former wrestler and Olympic medal winner, and hopes to take advantage of the possible split in Jat votes.
Who’s strong where
In Gohana, for instance, Congress’s Jagbir Singh Mallik is eyeing a major chunk of Jat votes for a fourth consecutive term. Mallik’s work done in the past few years is likely to act in his favour — he has opened a medical college for women, railway lines between Gohana and Jind, among others. Also in line is Loktanter Surakhsa Party’s Raj Kumar Saini, who is expected to divide the non-Jat votes and dent BJP’s prospects.
In Rai, however, BJP is banking on the significant migrant population to establish a toehold. In 2014, Jai Tirath Dahiya of Congress had defeated INLD’s Inderjeet Singh by three votes. But Dahiya’s election was last month declared void by the high court. But the contest this time is unlikely to remain restricted to between Dahiya and Singh, with BJP’s Lal Kaushik Badoli campaigning hard for non-Jat votes.