Haryana: Wrestlers, dynasts, TikTok star to slug it out for 12 key seats

THE WEEK presents profiles of key constituencies in Haryana to watch out for

Haryana collage FB (Clockwise) A collage showing Sonali Phogat with Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar, Dushyant Chautala with a voter, Babita Phogat and Abhay Singh Chautala | Official Facebook accounts

Haryana will vote to elect a new 90-member Assembly on October 21 (Monday). Of the 90 Assembly seats in the state, 73 are in the general category and 17 are reserved for scheduled castes.

The BJP won a stunning victory in the 2014 Assembly election, coming to power for the first time in Haryana, where it had been a 'third place' player for decades. In that election, the BJP, effectively, swapped places with the Congress, which had ruled Haryana for two straight terms. In the 2014 election, the BJP won 47 seats, while the Indian National Lok Dal, once the saffron party's ally, won 19 seats. The Congress was reduced to a paltry 15 seats, less than half of the 40 it won in the 2009 Assembly polls.

In 2019, the BJP, under Manohar Lal Khattar, will be seeking a renewed mandate, while the Congress and INLD face formidable odds in their battle for survival. In addition to the usual high-profile leaders and sports stars, the Haryana Assembly polls this time will see the likes of Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the families of Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal striving to stave off the BJP's encroachment into their fiefdoms, which started with the recent Parliament elections.

THE WEEK presents profiles of key constituencies in Haryana to watch out for.

Karnal: Karnal, which is a constituency in the north of Haryana, is in the news as it is the seat held by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Khattar won his maiden election from Karnal in 2014, defeating his Congress rival by over 60,000 votes. Sumita Singh of the Congress had won from Karnal in the 2005 and 2009 polls.

For the 2019 election, the Congress has fielded Tarlochan Singh, the former chairman of the state minority commission, while the Jannayak Janata Party of Dushyant Chautala has fielded Tej Bahadur Yadav, the BSF jawan who was removed from service after he complained about the quality of food in a viral video in 2017. Tej Bahadur Yadav had sought to contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha polls from Varanasi, but his nomination was rejected by the Election Commission.

Karnal is regarded as a clean city and is one among the 100 chosen by the Centre to be developed as 'Smart Cities'. Khattar has been credited with improving civic infrastructure and sanitation in Karnal.

Kaithal: Kaithal has been known as the stronghold of senior Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. Randeep Singh Surjewala had won from Kaithal in the 2009 and 2014 Assembly polls, while his father, Shamsher Singh Surjewala, had won from the constituency in 2005. In all those three elections, Kailash Bhagat of the INLD was the runner-up. The BJP has nominated Lila Ram Gujjar as its candidate from Kaithal for the 2019 Assembly election. Lila Ram had won from Kaithal in the 2000 Assembly poll, fighting as an INLD candidate.

Surjewala is desperate to avenge his embarrassing defeat in the Jind bypoll earlier this year. Surjewala had announced his campaign in Kaithal would revolve around local issues and his own work even as the BJP has sought to highlight the abrogation of Article 370 and demands for an NRC update in Haryana.

Jind: Jind, a constituency known for its very poor sex ratio, had made national headlines in late January for an Assembly bypoll. The bypoll was necessitated by the death of the sitting MLA, Hari Chand Middha of the INLD. Hari Chand Middha had won Jind in the 2009 and 2014 elections. Following his death, his son, Krishan Middha, joined the BJP and was nominated to fight the Jind bypoll. Krishan Middha won and the BJP held the Jind seat for the first time. Randeep Singh Surjewala was pushed to third place in the Jind bypoll.

In the 2019 Assembly election, Krishan Middha is contesting again. Interestingly, his JJP rival will be the son of another former Jind MLA. Mange Ram Gupta—who won from Jind three times on a Congress ticket (1991, 2000 and 2005) and once as an independent—joined the JJP earlier this month with his son, Mahavir. Mahavir is the JJP candidate from Jind this time. The Congress has nominated Anshul Singla, son of veteran politician Brij Mohan Singla.

Uchana Kalan: Dominated by the Jat community, Uchana Kalan constituency will witness an encore of the 2014 Assembly poll battle between members of two 'rival' families. In 2014, Prem Lata, wife of one-time veteran Congress leader Birender Singh, fought on a BJP ticket and defeated Dushyant Chautala of the INLD by a margin of approximately 7,000 votes. Birender Singh had represented Uchana Kalan five times on a Congress ticket, but shifted to the BJP in August 2014.

This time, Prem Lata will be fighting Dushyant again, though Dushyant is contesting on the ticket of his JJP.

Dushyant Chautala will be hoping to register a win against the family of Birender Singh, given he had lost to Brijendra Singh—the son of Prem Lata and Birender Singh—in the recent Lok Sabha polls from Hisar. In 2009, Dushyant's grandfather and patriarch of the INLD, Om Prakash Chautala, had won from Uchana Kalan by defeating Birender Singh,

Balram Katwal (Congress) and Satpal Gaindakhera (INLD) are among the other candidates in the fray, though the main battle is expected to be between Prem Lata and Dushyant.

Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi: Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi is the stronghold of two-time Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Bhupinder Singh Hooda had registered massive victories from Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi in 2009 (margin of over 70,000 votes) and 2014 (margin of over 47,000 votes). In both elections, the losing candidate was Satish Kumar Nandal of the INLD.

In 2019, too, Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been nominated by the Congress from Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi. However, Bhupinder Singh Hooda may have a tougher time in retaining Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi this time round. For one, Nandal joined the BJP in June this year and the saffron party is pouring in all efforts for an upset and has nominated Nandal as its candidate. Nandal is a popular Jat leader.

Moreover, the BJP won the Rohtak Lok Sabha seat (under which Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi falls), with Bhupinder Singh Hooda's son, Deepinder, losing on a Congress ticket. Bhupinder had also lost from the Sonepat Lok Sabha seat by a massive margin.

The BJP is playing up the issues of nationalism in Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi, citing the fact that nearly 70 per cent of area families have at least one member who is in the military. Moreover, the saffron party is attempting to capitalise on public anger against Bhupinder Singh Hooda over the violent Jat agitation of 2016.

Ellenabad: This constituency, named after a town founded by the British, is one of five constituencies in Sirsa district. Sirsa had been considered a stronghold of the INLD, with Ellenabad considered the bastion of the Chautalas.

Om Prakash Chautala won from Ellenabad in 2009, while his son, Abhay Singh Chautala, won the 2010 bypoll and 2014 Assembly election from the constituency. In 2014, Pawan Beniwal of the BJP was the runner-up, polling approximately 12,000 votes less than Abhay.

Abhay Singh Chautala is contesting from Ellenabad again, while the BJP has renominated Pawan Beniwal. The Congress has nominated Bharat Singh Beniwal as its candidate for Ellenabad. The BJP will be banking on the enthusiasm for its government's employment schemes and also the massive win of Sunita Duggal, its MP from Sirsa, in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

Duggal had defeated Ashok Tanwar of the Congress by over 1.3 lakh votes, and the BJP led in all five Assembly segments in Sirsa, including Ellenabad. On Wednesday, Tanwar, who has left the Congress, announced his support for Abhay Singh Chautala.

Dadri: Dadri is a unique constituency given its history in the past five Assembly elections. In this period, no party or candidate has won Dadri in consecutive elections. Moreover, in the past four Assembly polls, the victory margin was less than 2,000 votes. In 2009, Satpal Sangwan of the Haryana Janhit Congress (Bhajan Lal faction) won from Dadri, with a mere 145 votes separating him from the runner-up, Rajdeep Phogat of the INLD. Satpal Sangwan, who went on to become a minister in the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government, had won from Dadri in the 1996 Assembly election on an HVP ticket.

Rajdeep won from Dadri in 2014, defeating Somwir of the BJP by 1,610 votes. In that election, Satpal Sangwan, who was fighting on a Congress ticket, dropped to fourth place in Dadri. Rajdeep joined the JJP in 2018.

In this election, the BJP has nominated a star candidate, Commonwealth Games wrestling champion Babita Phogat. Sangwan is contesting again, this time on a JJP ticket. The Congress has nominated Nirpender Singh, who won from Dadri in 2005.

Adampur: If a list of family 'bastions' in Indian electoral history was drawn up, Adampur would rank at the very top. The family of Congress giant Bhajan Lal has won Adampur for 13 straight elections, with Bhajan Lal himself winning nine times. His wife, Jasma Devi, won from Adampur once, son Kuldeep Bishnoi won twice and Kuldeep's wife, Renuka, won it once.

After Bhajan Lal broke away from the Congress and formed the Haryana Janhit Congress (Bhajan Lal) in 2007, the new party won the Assembly polls in Adampur. Kuldeep won on an HJC(BL) ticket in 2009, Renuka won the bypoll in 2011 and Kuldeep won the 2014 Assembly election. The HJC(BL) merged with the Congress in 2016 and this has meant Kuldeep Bishnoi is contesting on a Congress ticket in 2019.

While such a long connection between Adampur and the family should have meant Kuldeep can relax, the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha election should worry him. Kuldeep's son, Bhavya Bishnoi came third in the Hisar Lok Sabha seat, under which Adampur Assembly segment falls. The BJP's Brijendra Singh won from Hisar; he also secured over 23,000 more votes in the Adampur segment than Bhavya Bishnoi.

As its candidate from Adampur, the BJP has nominated Sonali Phogat, who has been known more for being a TikTok video star than a leader of the Mahila Morcha.

Baroda: Baroda is one of three constituencies in the Haryana Assembly polls where the BJP has fielded sports champions. After Babita Phogat in Dadri and former national hockey team captain Sandeep Singh in Pehowa, the BJP has nominated Olympic medal-winning wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt from Baroda.

Dutt will be contesting against Sri Krishan Hooda of the Congress. Sri Krishan had won the Baroda seat in both 2009 and 2014. Sri Krishan won by a margin of just 5,000 votes in 2014 and over 25,000 votes in 2009; in both elections, his closest rival was Kapoor Singh Narwal of the INLD.

The Congress will be hoping to continue its hold on Baroda on October 21. Baroda is one of nine Assembly segments in the Sonipat Lok Sabha seat, which the BJP won by defeating Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Baroda was just one of two Assembly segments in Sonipat, which the Congress was able to lead in.

Thanesar: No party has won two consecutive Assembly polls in Thanesar since 2000, though the contests have been won by margins of over 5,000 votes.

Ashok Kumar Arora is the Congress candidate for Thanesar. Ashok Kumar, who was with the INLD for several years, joined the Congress in September. Ashok Kumar had won from Thanesar four times since 1990. He won from Thanesar on an INLD ticket in 2009, defeating Ramesh Gupta of the Congress by over 8,000 votes. In 2014, Ashok Kumar lost to Subhash Sudha of the BJP.

Like Arora, Sudha was an INLD member for several years. He joined the Congress in 2005, before switching to the BJP ahead of the 2014 elections. Sudha is the BJP candidate for the upcoming election from Thanesar.

Ambala Cantonment: Ambala Cantonment is the stronghold of outspoken Haryana government minister Anil Vij. Since 1996, Vij has won all elections in Ambala Cantonment, except in 2005, when he lost to a Congress candidate. Though associated with the Sangh Parivar for decades, Vij had fought as an independent till 2009, when he fought on a BJP ticket. In 2009 and 2014, Vij had won against Nirmal Singh of the Congress.

Vij is fighting again from Ambala Cantonment in the 2019 Assembly election. The Congress has nominated Venu Singla, an associate of Haryana state party chief Kumari Selja. Upset at being denied a ticket, Nirmal Singh is contesting as an independent from Ambala City, while his daughter, Chitra Sarwara, is fighting as an independent from Ambala Cantonment. The INLD candidate withdrew his candidature in support of Sarwara.

Vij had defeated Nirmal Singh by comfortable margins in 2009 (over 6,000 votes) and 2014 (over 15,000 votes). Moreover, the BJP's Ratan Lal Kataria led in the Ambala Cantonment Assembly segment as he went on to win the Lok Sabha seat of Ambala in May.

Tosham: Located at the foothills of the Aravali range, Tosham has been a stronghold of the Congress for most of its electoral history, or more accurately its former chief minister Bansi Lal. Since 1967, Bansi Lal himself won six times from Tosham, while his son Surender Singh won twice and Surender's wife, Kiran Chaudhary, has won twice.

The Congress has won four straight elections from 2000, with Kiran Chaudhary recording comfortable margins in 2014 (over 19,000 votes) and 2009 (over 45,000 votes) against her nearest INLD rival. Kiran Chaudhary is the Congress candidate this time too.

The BJP has nominated Shashi Ranjan Parmar, a former INLD MLA, as its candidate in Tosham. Tosham falls under the Bhiwani–Mahendragarh Parliamentary seat, which the BJP won this time. In the Parliamentary polls, the BJP's Dharambir Singh had led in Tosham Assembly segment by over 30,000 votes as he defeated Kiran Chaudhary's daughter Shruti Chaudhary.