KEY contest: Karnal:Two-time chief minister takes on a tyro in a head-to-head contest - Hindustan Times
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KEY contest: Karnal:Two-time chief minister takes on a tyro in a head-to-head contest

May 23, 2024 06:42 AM IST

Call it a quirk of fate, the BJP leader who till March 12 morning was occupying the CMs chair, stepped down in the afternoon and was two days later fielded from Karnal Lok Sabha constituency by the party

This is only the third election former Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, 70, of the BJP, is contesting in his rather short political career of about a decade.

The Karnal contest is being billed as David versus Goliath. (HT Photo)
The Karnal contest is being billed as David versus Goliath. (HT Photo)

Call it a quirk of fate, the BJP leader who till March 12 morning was occupying the CMs chair, stepped down in the afternoon and was two days later fielded from Karnal Lok Sabha constituency by the party.

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Divyanshu Budhiraja, the 31-year-old state youth Congress chief fielded by the Congress from Karnal Lok Sabha constituency is contesting his first major election. Budhiraja was a college student when Khattar became the chief minister of the state. So, the contest, on the face of it, seems rather uneven.

The commonality between the two

Khattar and Budhiraja both have some things in common. Both come from Punjabi-Khatri community which constitutes about 11.5% of the Karnal Lok Sabha electorate, both are outsiders (Khattar’s village is in Rohtak and Budhiraja comes from Gohana) and both were their party’s surprise picks for the 2024 elections.

Khattar was fielded by the BJP, ignoring sitting MP Sanjay Bhatia, who won by a margin of over 6.50 lakh votes in 2019 during the Modi wave post Pulwama incident and Balakot air strikes in Pakistan. Budhiraja was preferred by the Congress over seasoned leader Kuldeep Sharma who was party’s nominee in 2019.

The two have also crossed each other’s paths on a few occasions. As a student leader and youth Congress functionary, Budhiraja has been a vociferous critic of Khattar and opposed the state government headed by the BJP leader on the issues of unemployment and paper leaks of exams conducted by the Haryana Public Service Commission and Staff Selection Commission.

Contrasting styles of campaigning

During a whirlwind roadshow in Samalkha assembly constituency, the former CM tells the crowd that he completely understands that people have plenty of demands. “The model code of conduct is in force. I will come back to fulfil your demands after the elections,’’ he tells a gathering in Patti Kalyana village.

Riding in an open sports utility vehicle, the former chief minister is showered with petals at every stop by his supporters. Accorded Z plus security cover by the state government, his convoy has a heavy police presence during his election programmes. A number of police vehicles escorted his cavalcade during the roadshow in 15 villages of Samalkha assembly segment which has a sizeable 17% presence of Gujjar voters and 16% Jat voters. A poll song – Manohar Lal nahi bolega uska kaam bolega – being played on a loudspeaker probably summed up Khattar’s poll campaign pitch.

Divyanshu Budhiraja of the Congress who is negotiating the decrepit bylanes of Panipat City, an assembly segment having a majority 40% Punjabi Khatri population says that he has fought three elections – the students union, NSUI, and youth Congress.

I am a fresh face, that’s my big advantage: Budhiraja

“So, I am not a novice. My biggest positive is that I am a fresh face,” he says. “I regard Manohar Lal ji as a rejected chief minister. The BJP removed him as CM to dilute anti-incumbency sentiment in the state. And this would reflect in the outcome of Karnal Lok Sabha contest,’’ Budhiraja said.

Budhiraja said that he himself had requested the Congress leadership to field him against Khattar. “I have been consistently opposing the Khattar government’s anti-student, anti-youth and anti-people decisions. His ‘Bina Kharchi Bina Parchi’ slogan is a mere jumla. Every recruitment process started by this government has run into some controversy.

This electoral contest would take my fight to its logical conclusion,’’ the Congress nominee said.

On his being summoned as a proclaimed offender, the state youth Congress chief said that it was a 100% politically driven move. “I was never told about this case. And it was a trivial matter. The case was registered for putting flex boards. The courts however bailed me out. But Khattar sahib’s fate would be decided by people’s court,’’ Budhiraja said.

There is no anti-incumbency for us. We have people’s trust: Khattar

Former chief minister ML Khattar says that BJPs narrative is about the Prime Minister’s stature, his persona and accomplishments, which are the party’s biggest strengths. “The BJP government in Haryana has provided a responsive administration which has worked for the welfare of every section of the society. We have been able to win people’s confidence and trust,’’ Khattar said. On his Congress rival being a newcomer and inexperienced hand, Khattar said that his poll campaign is as vigorous as it would have been for any other better experienced rival. “It’s a matter of ideology. Our intensity would not reduce,’’ Khattar said.

The former chief minister said that anti-incumbency is a factor when the governments do not perform. “The BJP government in Haryana has worked for the welfare of the people of the state. Our work speaks for us. And you will see it when the election results will be declared on June 4.

On farmer’s protest, Khattar said there have been isolated instances only in the Assandh area. “Most of such incidents are politically motivated and incited by our rivals who have nothing else to counter our development and pro-people agenda,’’ he maintains.

The Karnal contest is being billed as David versus Goliath. The outcome would be anybody’s guess.

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