The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on Sanjay Bhatia, popularly referred to as ‘Bunty Bhai’ and a confidante of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, to retain the Karnal Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 parliamentary polls.
Bhatia, 52, has replaced BJP’s ‘heavyweight’ sitting Karnal MP Ashwini Kumar, who riding on Narendra Modi wave had defeated the Congress candidate by 3,60,147 votes in 2014. The stakes are very high for Bhatia, who had earlier contested two assembly elections unsuccessfully. Equally crucial is the Karnal parliamentary seat for the prestige of chief minister Khattar as the poll outcome will reflect his popularity and set the tone for the assembly elections slated for later this year.
Of the total nine assembly segments of Karnal Lok Sabha seat, as many as eight are represented by BJP MLAs, including Khattar who represents Karnal. Bhatia is banking on these legislators for personal as well as party’s electoral fortunes. Hence, the sitting BJP legislators too have a lot at stake.
Party insiders say that apart from being a Punjabi and close to Khattar, old association with RSS also helped Bhatia get the ticket from this seat dominated by the Punjabi community. There are about 3.5 lakh Punjabi voters, including Arora, Khatri, Sikh, Jat Sikh in both Karnal and Panipat cities and in towns such as Nilokheri, Taraori, Asandh, Samalkha and Indri.
He is rumoured to have been close to BJP stalwarts like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani who had helped him to become the Panipat municipal council chairman in 2000 when Om Prakash Chautala’s government regime in the state.
“I am not contesting election for the first time. I am an old fighter and have spent most of my life in the electoral battleground,” Bhatia said.
A commerce graduate from IB College, Panipat, Bhatia remained state BJP general secretary and president of Kisan Morcha. BJP had fielded him from the Panipat city assembly segment in 2005 and 2009. His supporters say Bhatia, despite being defeated, in assembly elections kept on building the party cadre. He is also credited, along with his wife Anju, for the party’s victory in Panipat mayoral election last year in which BJP’s mayoral candidate Avneet Kaur had won with a record margin of about 75,000 votes.
Among Bhatia’s weak spots are lack of popularity, especially in Karnal. As he belongs to Panipat and has no connection with Karnal, he is considered to be a parachute leader by the party in Karnal. And he minces no words in accepting that BJP’s decision to field him has caused some heartburn among those angling for the ticket. During the meeting of BJP workers in Karnal, Bhatia has been trying to address this issue.
“I am a nobody… I am junior to several leaders in the party. But I want to assure all that I will remain in Karnal and my doors will remain open roundthe-clock for the workers of Karnal,” Bhatia assured BJP workers while addressing a meeting in Karnal.
Among his top priorities are making Karnal constituency pollution-free and improving education and medical facilities.
“I want to reiterate that I will remain in Karnal and solve the problems of my constituents,” he said.
Apr 19, 2021 15:04 IST