68% votes cast in Haryana's Baroda bypoll

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Chandigarh, Nov 3 (PTI) The polling in the bypoll to Baroda assembly seat in Haryana on Tuesday went off peacefully, recording an average turnout of 68 per cent which sealed the fate of 14 candidates.

The Baroda seat had recorded 69.43 per cent polling in the 2019 Haryana assembly polls.

“The polling on Tuesday was peaceful,” Sonipat Deputy Commissioner Shaym Lal Poonia told PTI over phone.

He said the voting percentage may change as polling data was still being compiled.

The polling started at 7 am and continued till 6 pm amid tight security and special anti-COVID precautions, officials said.

The counting of votes will be held on November 10.

There were 14 candidates, including Olympian wrestler and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee Yogeshwar Dutt, in the fray for the Baroda assembly seat, which has around 1.81 lakh registered voters.

The seat had fallen vacant in April following the death of Congress MLA Krishan Hooda, who had won it consecutively thrice in 2009, 2014 and 2019 assembly polls.

A total of 280 polling booths were set up, of which, 151 were categorised as ‘vulnerable’.

Security personnel, including three companies of paramilitary forces, were deployed to ensure peaceful polling, they said.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the voters were screened with thermal scanners at polling booths. Masks and gloves were also given to them and they were asked to maintain physical distance at polling stations. The arrangement of PPE (personal protective equipment) kits, gloves and sanitizers were also made available to the polling staff.

The polling began at a slow pace but it picked up pace as the day progressed.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to Baroda voters to ensure maximum participation in the voting process.

'In a democracy, each vote is valuable. So is yours. I appeal to all of you to participate in this 'utsav' of democracy with your family members in large numbers and cast your votes,” he tweeted.

Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too urged voters in a tweet to exercise their franchise while adhering to anti-COVID precautions. He said the Baroda bypoll would change the direction of Haryana politics.

BJP candidate Yogeshwar Dutt cast his vote in the morning. Before exercising his franchise, the wrestler-turned-politician offered prayers to Lord Hanuman at his village.

Talking to reporters, Dutt appealed to people to cast their votes and said his objective was to serve people.

The Baroda assembly constituency has a total of 1,80,529 registered voters, including service voters, with 99,726 men, 80,801 women and two transgenders, officials said.

BJP's candidate Dutt is also backed by saffron ally JJP. Dutt had lost the 2019 assembly poll by about 4,800 votes to Congress candidate Shri Krishan Hooda.

The opposition Congress has fielded former Sonipat Zila Parishad member Indu Raj Narwal, while Joginder Malik is fighting the bypoll as an Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate.

Seven independents and four candidates belonging to other parties, including former Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini who heads the Loktantra Suraksha Party, are in the fray from the constituency.

The Baroda bypoll is being seen as a direct contest between the ruling BJP and the Congress.

The ruling BJP would like to register a victory from the Baroda seat which it never won while the Congress would like to retain it.

The Baroda bypoll is also a battle of prestige for Bhupinder Singh Hooda as the Jat-dominated constituency lies adjacent to his own Garhi-Sampla Kiloi seat in Rohtak and is considered his stronghold.

The bypoll is equally important for the INLD which had slumped to its worst-ever performance in the 2019 assembly polls when the party could win only one out of 90 seats.

Baroda was a reserved seat till 2005 and a pocketborough of the INLD before the Congress won it for three consecutive terms since 2009.

The BJP had won 40 of the 90 assembly seats in 2019 and later formed the government with Jannayak Janta Party’s (JJP) support, which had won 10 seats.

A win in Baroda will take the saffron party's tally to 41 while if Congress wins, its tally will remain unchanged at 31 as the seat was held by Shri Krishan Hooda. INLD's strength will rise to two if they win the seat.