Ambala | Congress challenger sets sight on BJP stronghold - Hindustan Times
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Ambala | Congress challenger sets sight on BJP stronghold

By, Ambala
May 17, 2024 07:22 AM IST

The embattled BJP, facing a palpable anti-incumbency, has fielded Banto Devi Kataria, 59, the wife of late MP Rattan Lal Kataria who won from the seat thrice – in 1999, 2014, 2019.

With barely a week left for campaigning to end, electioneering has picked up momentum in the Ambala Lok Sabha constituency in the run-up to polling on May 25 in Haryana.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pulling out all stops to retain the seat, the Congress, with its united face, is giving it jitters. (HT Photo)
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pulling out all stops to retain the seat, the Congress, with its united face, is giving it jitters. (HT Photo)

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pulling out all stops to retain the seat, the Congress, with its united face, is giving it jitters.

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The embattled BJP, facing a palpable anti-incumbency, has fielded Banto Devi Kataria, 59, the wife of late MP Rattan Lal Kataria who won from the seat thrice – in 1999, 2014, 2019.

In 2014, Kataria, the son of a shoe mender, had bagged 50% of the total votes polled in the constituency. People still remember Kataria for unassuming persona and witty speeches. His widow, who is a veteran BJP worker with a gift of the gab, is skilfully leading her campaign from the front with an ear-to-the-ground approach and turning disadvantages into an opportunity.

But it will take more than rhetoric for the BJP nominee to convince voters as Congress nominee Varun Chaudhary, 44, has launched a fierce battle to salvage the pride of the grand old party.

Known for his affable persona and raising issues of public importance in the assembly, Varun, a sitting MLA from Mullana (reserved) assembly segment and son of veteran Congress leader Phool Chand Mullana, has been attracting crowds and regaling them with his sharp speeches.

There are 14 candidates in the fray, including Jannayak Janta Party’s Kiran Punia, and Indian National Lok Dal’s Gurpreet Singh.

Clearly, it looks like a direct contest between BJP and the Congress. Other candidates in the fray are expected to perform in consonance with their political standing.

The stage is, thus, set for an interesting showdown.

High-voltage contest

The significance of the May 25 electoral bout in Ambala lies in the fact that linked to the outcome of this contest is the prestige of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has been instrumental in fielding Varun.

Among the strongest factors in favour of the BJP is the popularity of former BJP MP Kataria.

And one of the major factors working in favour of the Congress’ nominee is his clean image. Also, if Varun wins, it will unveil new political opportunities to the aspiring second-rung of leaders in Mullana segment.

In Ambala district and urban pockets of other assembly segments, the behaviour of voters appears indifferent, and they appear to be in no hurry to make the crucial decision.

But, the voters in the hinterland are clear and they do not shy away from spewing venom against the BJP.

The presence of police in sizable numbers to ward-off any protest at places where BJP candidate goes for canvassing, clearly points towards the public mood and challenges confronting the BJP.

Nonetheless, both BJP and Congress candidates are receiving a rousing reception during the canvassing. From children to women to the elderly, everyone is turning up to catch a glimpse of the candidates and hear what they have to offer during their break-neck whirlwind tours.

Of the nine assembly seats of this parliamentary constituency, the BJP has MLAs in five segments (Panchkula, Ambala Cantt, Ambala City, Jaghadhri and Yamunanagar), while Congress MLAs represent Kalka, Naraingarh, Mullana (SC) and Sadhaura (SC).

Which party will the electorate let down at the hustings? That’s the hot topic of heated discussion across the constituency.

Campaign style and what candidates say

The Congress and BJP candidates in the fray are focusing on corner meetings and their foot soldiers are knocking at every door. BJP’s Banto Kataria and Congress’ Varun Chaudhary say they have been on their toes since dawn to midnight, reaching out to voters in every panchayat. In this searing heat, the meetings are held in community halls and leaders try to be punctual.

Banking on the heat that a section of voters are generating against the BJP, Congress nominee Varun Chaudhary is seeking vote to “save Constitution and end dictatorship” while reminding people how BJP increased problems of the people instead of solving them.

“People are full of josh. We have to reach out to every household. All the Congress MLAs have raised your voice in the assembly. Now, elect an MP who can become your voice in the Lok Sabha,” says Varun, during an outreach at Manglai village of Naraingarh segment.

“The existing industry is under stress...farmers are angry and youth is restive. BJP has ignored every section and that is why there is huge resentment against the BJP. That’s why people are coming out in our support,” says the Congress candidate at Kodva Khurd village, repeatedly telling his audience that the voice of the people of Ambala Lok Sabha was not raised in the Parliament in the last one decade.

At a Kadasan panchayat, on the other hand, BJP candidate Banto Kataria, takes pot shots at Congress and reminds voters how they were benefited by welfare schemes of the Centre.

At every meeting, she links “power of your vote” with “Modi ki guarantee” and asks her audience if they received benefits or not. The audience that includes women also agrees.

“It is due to the power of your vote that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was able to transform Bharat and launch so many welfare schemes,” she tells the gathering at Mangharpoora.

What is her assessment of the public mood? “I am confident. Everyone has a story to tell about Kataria ji. People remember my husband very fondly and they have huge respect for him. They will bless me as a tribute to Kataria ji.”

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