The stage is set for a multi-cornered contest in Karnal parliamentary constituency. Two-time Congress nominee Arvind Sharma is seeking reelection and all major candidates are harping on the caste card to ensure victory.
The BJP has fielded media baron and political greenhorn Ashwini Kumar Chopra ‘Minna’ to cash in on the Punjabi voters where the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD)’s Jaswinder Singh Sandhu is a prominent Sikh face of the party.
Similarly, par ty hopper Maratha Virender Verma is nominee of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
An IAS officer-turned-politician, Verma, a leader of Ror community with a sizeable number of voters in the constituency, had rejoined the BSP after quitting the BJP.
Paramjeet Singh of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is another political novice, hoping to cash in on the popularity of Arvind Kejriwal.
Nine assembly segments – five in Karnal district and four in Panipat -- are part of this constituency.
Two of these legislators -- Zile Ram Sharma (Congress MLA from Assandh) and Om Prakash Jain (Independent from Panipat (rural)) -- are in jail for their alleged role in abetting the suicide of an ex-sarpanch.
Besides the anti-incumbency factor, the Congress candidate will have to counter intense infighting among party colleagues. A senior party leader known for having differences with Arvind Sharma may use his influence to topple the Congress candidate’s electoral prospects.
Sharma claims that Kalpana Chawla Government Medical College and Hospital, the proposed airport in Karnal and the expansion of the Indian Oil Refinery at Panipat were due to his efforts.
He also claims to have been instrumental in halting of several trains in the area and ensuring railway over-bridges and underpasses.
There are 1.5 lakh Brahmin voters in the constituency and according to political observers, being the only Brahmin candidate among the major contestants, Sharma will try to woo them.
But his opponents say Sharma has failed to ensure development concerning the common man.
INLD’s Sandhu says shifting of the bus stand from a highly congested locality was pending for the past 10 years and even after more than a year of its inauguration, the solid waste management plant near Karnal was non-functional.
BJP’s Minna raises the issue of unemployment and the dismal number of government job opportunities to the youth. He is seeking votes in the name of Modi. Of the nine assembly segments, five are represented by the INLD.
While the opposition parties are raising their voice for a political change, the Congress candidate is banking on various development programmes launched by the party at the central and state levels. Moreover, he is trying to cash in on his constant touch with the voters.
Congress’ Shar ma originally hails from Jhajjar district and had won from the Jat-dominating Sonepat Lok Sabha seat as an Independent candidate in 1996 before shifting to Karnal in 2004.
Similarly, INLD’s Sandhu has thrice represented his home assembly constituency of Pehowa in Kurukshetra district. BJP’s Chopra is a resident of Delhi.
“Northern Haryana has been suffering from political paralysis as the parties have been fielding outsiders. For more than 15 years, I have been raising the issue of electing a local candidate who could understand the issues of the area and it will be my main agenda in this election,” says Verma of the BSP.
AAP has not raised any state or constituency-specific issues but the party is banking on its main political agenda of ending corruption. Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal also held road shows in support of their candidates.