Rohtak: The electorate of Rohtak—locally considered the “capital of Jatland”—Lok Sabha constituency is seemingly set to re-elect Congress’ incumbent lawmaker Deepender Hooda fourth time in a row. Deepender Hooda is the son of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who himself is locked in a poll battle in Sonipat, a nearby constituency, against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s incumbent parliamentarian Ramesh Chandra Kaushik.

The electorate of Rohtak, along with nine other Lok Sabha seats of Haryana, will go to the elections in the sixth phase of the Lok Sabha polls on 12 May, Sunday.

The constituency, which has been a citadel of the Hooda family, is witnessing a poll battle of prestige where Deepender Hooda is in direct contest with BJP candidate Dr Arvind Sharma. While Deepender Hooda is a Jat, Sharma is a Brahmin.

A former Congressman, three-time MP Arvind Sharma had joined the BJP earlier this year. He had in the past won the Jat-dominated Sonipat Lok Sabha seat, in 1996, as an independent candidate and later the Karnal Lok Sabha seat in 2004 and 2009 on a Congress ticket.

Besides BJP and Congress, Jannayak Janta Party-Aam Aadmi Party’s alliance candidate Pradeep Deshwal and Indian National Lok Dal’s (INLD) nominee Dharmveer Foji are also in the poll fray in Rohtak.

The mood of the voters on the ground clearly shows that strong polarisation on caste lines is likely to influence the outcome of the election in Rohtak.

Sanjeev Malik, a voter, told The Sunday Guardian: “We are going to vote for our brother Deepender who is a Jat. In Rohtak, not a single Jat family will cast any vote in favour of BJP’s Arvind Sharma. It is not because we don’t like BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but because Deepender Hooda is our leader who has grown up with us.”

Ramavtar Dahia, another voter, told The Sunday Guardian, “You conduct a survey in Rohtak and you will find that people here don’t vote for any party, they vote for the Hooda family, which has done so much development work for the constituency. We have no problem of roads, electricity, toilet or something like that. This area is among one of the top industrialised districts of the country. All these were possible due to the leadership of Deepender Hooda and his father.”

The popularity of the Hooda family in Rohtak constituency is such that even at the time of the “Modi wave” in 2014, Deepender Hooda defeated BJP’s Om Prakash Dhankar with a margin of nearly two lakh votes. Since 2005, Deepender Hooda has carried forward the family legacy and is seeking his fourth term from the constituency.

In scorching heat, hundreds of Congress supporters and workers (men and women) gathered with garland and paraphernalia in Birdhana, one of the Jat-dominated villages of Rohtak, to see Deepender Hooda during his poll campaign in the area on Wednesday. After a delay of three-and-a-half hours from his scheduled meeting time, Hooda reached the village at 3.30 pm.

A few supporters requested him to come out of his car and take a seat on a tractor for a photograph, which he refused, saying: “I have to go to every house in the area for seeking votes; if you assure me all votes of this village, then I can take a seat with you.”

Later, he politely explained his inability to accept such requests and promised to the villagers that once elected, he would visit the village again. “I will come after the elections to sit with you and will even take a tractor ride. Haven’t I done all these in the past too?”

Asked about his popularity here, Hooda said: “Rohtak is my home; I grew up here with the other boys. I have nothing to say about my popularity, it’s just that the voters here have been giving me love and blessings. I am sure of getting the same support again.”

“I have worked here. And I am seeking my re-election based on my work. I don’t invoke divisive planks for getting votes as I believe that in any election, the issues should be development and candidates must go through this test only,” Deepender Hooda told The Sunday Guardian.

Many voters in the constituency said that Deepender Hooda may face a tough contest, as the BJP has focused on consolidation of non-Jat voters in the area and is hoping to wean away a section of Jat voters who support Narendra Modi.

Gopal Goyal, a voter from Arya Nagar area of Rohtak, told The Sunday Guardian: “Voters here wish to see Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and for that, they have planned to vote for BJP’s Arvind Sharma.”

Rajendra Sharma, a voter from Valmiki Nagar village, told The Sunday Guardian: “Last time, voters of Rohtak elected Deepender Hooda, but the Congress did not come to power at the Centre; this time again, since Congress is not coming to power at the Centre,. Voting for that party will be a waste of my vote.”

The BJP is reaching out to leaders of caste-based organisations in the constituency, besides conducting an aggressive campaign led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. The BJP’s support base in Rohtak largely comprises urban non-Jat voters and traders.

Prime Minister Modi addressed a rally in Rohtak on Friday. The Jat candidates fielded by other political parties like Jannayak Janta Party-Aam Aadmi Party (JJP-AAP) candidate Pradeep Deshwal are unlikely to split the Jat vote, as people seem to have made up their mind about not splitting or wasting their votes.

Rohtak was at the epicenter of the violent reservation stir of 2016 that left 30 people dead, and the incident is likely to cast a shadow on the poll outcome. Jat outfits have announced that they would boycott the BJP.

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