Chandigarh: The pre-election buzz and exit polls are nearly unanimous in saying that the Haryana assembly elections will be a near-sweep for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, with the only unanswered question being the size of its majority in the 90-seat House.
But that’s not to say there aren’t some seats that will have a special spotlight on them — be it for reasons of star power or close contests.
ThePrint has picked five seats to watch out for in Haryana when counting begins at 8am Thursday.
This is a Punjabi-dominated constituency, from where CM Khattar is in the fray. Facing him are the Congress’ Tarlochan Singh and the Jannayak Janata Party’s Tej Pratap Yadav, who was dismissed from the Border Security Force after he posted a video complaining about the food served to jawans.
Yadav had also tried to contest against PM Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections from Varanasi on a Samajwadi Party ticket, but the Election Commission had rejected his nomination papers.
Khattar had won the seat in 2014 with a margin of over 63,000 votes, wresting it from the Congress, which had won it twice in a row.
Although Singh, a local Congress leader, is not expected to be any match for Khattar, it will be interesting to see how many votes Yadav is able to garner, as he represents the anti-Modi narrative.
This seat in the Jat heartland has elected two-time former Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in successive elections since being created after delimitation in 2009. Hooda’s rival has been the same in all three elections — Satish Kumar Nandal, a former Indian National Lok Dal man who switched sides and is now fighting on a BJP ticket. Hooda’s victory margin had decreased from 2009 to 2014, so it will be interesting to see what happens this time.
Hooda had lost the Lok Sabha elections from Sonepat, so he desperately needs a victory to assert his supremacy within the Haryana Congress, which has been in disarray for the last five years due to an open civil war between Hooda and Ashok Tanwar, the party chief who was removed on the eve of the elections. Tanwar has now left the Congress and aligned himself with the JJP to work against Hooda.
If Hooda loses, or even wins but with a margin less than his other rivals in the state Congress — Randeep Singh Surjewala (Kaithal) and Kiran Choudhry (Tosham) — it could lead to a fresh factional war.
JJP chief Dushyant Chautala, a former MP, is fighting from this seat, also in the Jat heartland. Chautala, the great-grandson of former deputy prime minister Devi Lal, broke away from his grandfather Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD, and is trying to bring his family’s traditional Jat voters, who have switched to the Congress or the BJP, into his fold.
Uchana Kalan seat has been a stronghold of Chaudhary Birender Singh, who was first in the Congress and later joined the BJP and served as a Union minister under the first Narendra Modi government.
Chautala is up against Singh’s wife Premlata Singh of the BJP for the second time, having lost to her by 7,500 votes in 2014. The Congress’ Balram Katwal is the third contender.
Another significant seat in the Jat belt sees the BJP’s state chief Subhash Barala pitted against JJP’s Devender Babli and two-time former Congress MLA, Paramvir Singh.
Barala, the sitting MLA, is the front-runner to retain, while Babli looks to be giving him a tough fight. In 2014, Barala had defeated INLD’s Nishan Singh by about 7,000 votes, with Babli finishing third as an independent. Babli was expecting a Congress ticket this time, but instead, the party went with the 2004 and 2009 MLA Paramvir Singh.
A win for Barala would consolidate his position in the BJP, while a defeat could mean a change of guard.
BJP’s other significant Jat leader and state finance minister Captain Abhimanyu is contesting this rural seat against JJP’s Ram Kumar Gautam, a non-Jat who won the seat for the BJP in 2005, and Baljeet Sihag of the Congress.
Gautam had contested as an Independent candidate in 2014 but came in third, as Abhimanyu defeated INLD’s Raj Singh Mor by about 5,500 votes.
The seat has become significant because in the Lok Sabha polls in May, BJP’s candidate from Hisar, Brijendra Singh, had trailed in this assembly segment, ringing alarm bells for Abhimanyu. A defeat for Abhimanyu could be a huge embarrassment to the ruling party.