BJP relies on Sonali Phogat to breach Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Adampur citadel
Sonali Phogat, 40, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Haryana’s Adampur, started her career as an anchor on Doordarshan 20 years back. She later dabbled in acting before becoming an internet sensation thanks to her popularity on TikTok. She has 1.51 lakh followers on the social media app.
Phogat’s popularity may have given her a leg up in her political career, but she seems to be taking no chances. She begins her campaign around dawn and traverses through dusty and dung-scattered village paths throughout the day before ending it around midnight. During door-to-door campaigning, it is a selfie here and a hug there as she sticks to the local Bagdi dialect to ensure a greater connect with the voters.
Phogat, a school dropout, is hoping to do what no one has been able to over the last four decades: defeat a member of late former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s family from Adampur. The family has represented Adampur in the Haryana assembly since 1972. Lal’s son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, 51, a three-time Congress lawmaker, is seeking another term from Adampur.
The BJP is hoping to finally wrest the seat, taking heart from the outcome of Hisar Lok Sabha seat this summer. Bhavya Bishnoi, Congress candidate from Hisar and Kuldeep Bishnoi’s son, trailed by nearly 23,000 votes from the Adampur assembly segment in the national polls.
“For the first time, the family of Bhajan Lal was defeated,” Bishnoi told a gathering in Dhandoor village, referring to the Lok Sabha election result. He urged them to recognise who is their own. “By weakening me, you will become politically weak too.”
He questioned how could Phogat fulfil the aspirations of the voters when she does not even know the names of five villages in the constituency. “...Be careful...do not get charmed. Otherwise, Adampur will have to suffer,” he told voters in Jhiri area.
About 15 km away, Phogat told a gathering in Bagla village that after winning elections, Bishnoi becomes inaccessible. As Phogat spoke, Hawa Singh, a Jat farmer, interrupted her saying: “Mokka hai, dhaa leyo Bishnoi ko [This is a good chance to defeat Bishnoi].”
Phogat underlined that she was born in Adampur’s Bal Samand village and went to a government school there. “I was married to a man from Hisar. I am from a family of farmers and live here. I know the ground realities,’’ she countered Bishnoi’s attempt to project her as an outsider while canvassing in Kabrel area.
At a late evening meeting at Thaska village, Bishnoi folded his hands as he admitted to his disconnect with the constituents and blamed “overconfidence” as one of the reasons for his son’s defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. He asked villagers to forgive him. “Our relations are not political. Our relations with all of you are five-decades old. I will always be the first to face sticks of the police for your sake. My family has always taken care of you. Now you have to vote carefully.”
Krishan Bagla, a local resident, called Phogat a niece of Baal Samand village, which has 6,000 voters. “Her extended family has relations spread across the segment. She is a daughter, daughter-in-law... This has become a force multiplier for her,” he said. Bagla complained that they have not seen Bishnoi for five years.
According to Professor Ashutosh Kumar of the political science department at Panjab University, Chandigarh, Sonali Phogat may have advantage of belonging to the numerically strong Jat community, but Adampur is the pocket borough of Bhajan Lal family. “Kuldeep Bishnoi has won here even after leaving the Congress. It is difficult to imagine that Phogat would pull off an upset. Moreover such upsets take place when there is a wave,” says Prof Kumar.
Rohtak-based political observer Prof Rajendra Sharma said,“Political parties take advantage of the star power for electoral gains. Sonali Phogat is popular and has no past baggage. This is a tried and tested formula of political parties. Entry of already popular candidates gives the much-needed advantage to the party.”