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Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Modi factor, internal strife in Opposition behind BJP rise in Haryana

Haryana is not the only Hindi speaking state which gave an overwhelming victory to the BJP in 2019. Even in states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the BJP lost assembly elections in December 2018, it managed overwhelming victories in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2019 06:30 IST
Roshan Kishore and Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa
Roshan Kishore and Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of Haryana Assembly elections, at Thaneshar in Kurukshetra, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of Haryana Assembly elections, at Thaneshar in Kurukshetra, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. (PTI file photo)
         

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana in the 2019 general elections with a vote share of 58%. This was a big improvement even over its surprise victory in seven Lok Sabha seats with a vote share of 35% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. What explains this phenomenal rise of the BJP in the state?

There is definitely the Narendra Modi factor. Haryana is not the only Hindi speaking state which gave an overwhelming victory to the BJP in 2019. Even in states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the BJP lost assembly elections in December 2018, it managed overwhelming victories in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. There could also be a pro-incumbency factor towards the BJP state government in Haryana. The exact extent of it will only be known once the outcome of forthcoming assembly elections is announced on October 24.

However, Haryana is unique in a way. It is perhaps the only state where the index of opposition unity has worsened significantly between the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This disunity has not come because of alliance partners disassociating with each other, but internal strife within two major opposition parties, namely the Congress and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

Even until the 2014 assembly elections, the Congress and the INLD had a vote share of 45% between them. In fact, the BJP’s 2014 victories, both in Lok Sabha and the assembly, were achieved in a triangular contest.

This can be seen from an analysis of the number of assembly constituencies (ACs) of spoiler aided victories for the BJP in the state. A spoiler aided victory is defined as one in which the vote share of the party finishing third is more than the victory margin. In the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the BJP won 14 and 23 ACs respectively due to spoilers, the highest since the 1999 Lok Sbaha elections. The Lok Sabha elections have been broken down at the AC level for this analysis.

(See Chart 1: Spoiler aided victories for BJP)

 

The role of spoilers in the BJP’s victory in Haryana should have led to a realisation of importance of opposition unity in the state. Far from it, both the Congress and the INLD got caught in an internal feud in the post-2014 phase.

The INLD split before the 2019 general elections, with former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson, Dushyant Chautala, walking out to form the Jananayak Janata Party (JJP).

While the Congress has avoided a formal split, its previous state president, Ashok Tanwar, has resigned from the party. Tanwar, who is a Dalit, has been involved in a long factional war with former chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a Jat.

This suggests that it is unlikely that the Congress was a united house even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The INLD and Congress have lost significant ground in Haryana. The combined vote share of the Congress, INLD and JJP was just 35% in the 2019 general elections. The INLD has been all but decimated. Both breakaway factions of the party polled less than 7% votes. When broken down at the AC level, the JJP led in just one of the 63 ACs it contested while the INLD led in none. The Congress, even though it managed to increase its 2014 assembly election vote share by eight percentage points, had a lead in just 11 ACs in the 2019 general elections.

What explains this state of the opposition? Caste politics, especially the role of Jat votes, has played an important role. Jats are the dominant peasant community, with a share of almost 25% in population.

The INLD has traditionally been a party of Jats. CSDS-Lokniti statistics show that the Congress’s support among Jats halved from 42% to 21% between the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. INLD was the main beneficiary of this, and received 54% of Jat votes in 2014.

The Congress perhaps saw this as the main reason behind its defeat. What it did not realise in its eagerness to consolidate the votes of the dominant community was the fact that the BJP had overtaken it among the upper castes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

The INLD, on the other hand, did not realise the need for consolidating votes from other communities, including Dalits, who have a 20% share in the state’s population.

(See Chart 2: Vote share of Congress, BJP and INLD in 2014 across communities)

 

This created a situation in which the opposition’s efforts to consolidate Jat votes ended up alienating other communities. This was especially true during the agitation demanding Jat reservations in February 2016 leading to large scale violence and destruction of property. Not only did the BJP consolidate other communities in 2019, it also managed 50% of Jat votes, who might have shifted loyalties given BJP’s better winnability.

(See Chart 3: Vote share of Congress and BJP in 2019 across communities)

 

If the BJP were to repeat its Lok Sabha performance in the assembly elections, it would also mean that the old way of winning Haryana by just mobilising Jat votes, which is what the opposition tried in the national elections, might not work any longer. The opposition, if it wants to stay relevant, needs to build inter-community alliances.