In Haryana, BJP high on Lok Sabha win; disunity plagues Opposition
Buoyed by its triumphant performance in the recent Lok Sabha election, the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in Haryana is confident about its prospects in the 2019 Haryana assembly polls that are to be held on October 21, 2019.
The BJP, which in 2014 formed the government on its own for the first time in Haryana riding the Narendra Modi wave, seems to have earned a decisive edge over its rivals after the parliamentary polls. The saffron party not only pocketed all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, it won nine of them with hefty margins in the range of 160,000-650,000 votes, and a vote share of 58 %. A depleted Opposition in the state plagued by bickering and desertions has only helped the BJP gain a distinct advantage over its rivals.
Jats and non-Jats divide
The BJP’s move in 2014 to crown a Punjabi, Manohar Lal Khattar, as the chief minister of the state broke the hegemony of Jat chief ministers for 18 years. Before Khattar, the last non-Jat to have ascended the throne was Bhajan Lal in 1991. From 1996 till 2014, members of the Jat community – Bansi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala and Bhupinder Singh Hooda (two terms) ruled the state.
The conflict between the Jats, the majority community in the state with an approximate 25 % presence, and the non-Jat communities always shaped the political landscape of the state.
The 2016 Jat quota stir, however, proved to be a significant occurrence for non-Jat communities to bind together. The arson and violence during the quota agitation concentrated in the heartland districts of Rohtak, Sonepat, Jhajjar, Jind and Bhiwani harmed the non-Jats more than anyone else in terms of destruction of assets and hurting their pride. This caused a sharp polarisation.
“There is a clear cut division between the Jats and non-Jats in Haryana and this will prove to be a crucial factor in the assembly polls,” said professor Ashutosh Kumar who teaches Political Science at Panjab University, Chandigarh.
The gains for the ruling BJP became apparent in December 2018 when the party scored impressive wins in the mayoral elections in five municipal corporations (MCs). The victory indicated polarisation of the electorate on caste lines since all the MCs - Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat, Rohtak and Hisar- where the BJP won, has a significant Punjabi and Vaishya vote-bank.
While in 2014 assembly polls, the saffron party had done well in northern districts of Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat, Kurukshetra, Panchkula and Ambala by registering wins in 21 of the 23 seats, primarily due to overwhelming support of non-Jat voters, the BJP in 2018 urban local bodies polls benefitted from the consolidation of non-Jats in places like Rohtak and Hisar.
A month later in January the BJP registered an emphatic victory in the Jind assembly by-poll, a contest in which two Jat candidates from rival parties faced off with the BJP’s Punjabi candidate. The outcome yet again indicated polarisation of the electorate in terms of Jats and non-Jats in a constituency having 27% Jat voters. Kumar said that the polarisation had benefitted the BJP. “There is no Hindu-Muslim factor in Haryana. But the caste dimensions are fiercely entrenched in the state and the BJP has taken advantage of this. Also chief minister ML Khattar was able to steer his government without any scandals,’’ he added.
The problems in the Congress
Shell shocked after its rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress high command has taken time addressing the issues plaguing Haryana Congress. The delay in effecting a change of guard – appointing Rajya Sabha member, Kumari Selja (a Dalit leader who replaced another Dalit face, Ashok Tanwar) as state Congress chief and former chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda ( a Jat leader) the Congress Legislature Party leader and chairman of the poll management committee – are seen as belated attempts to revive party’s sinking fortunes in the state. The party’s plan seems to concentrate more on the Dalit and Jat voters who jointly constitute approximately 46% of the state’s electorate.
“The biggest challenge for the Congress is to create public confidence that they are in the reckoning. Right now, the perception is that BJP will win hands down. The Congress needed at act early soon after the Lok Sabha poll results to shatter this impression. They haven’t been able to do it so far,’’ said a bureaucrat well versed with the political climate of the state.
Decimation of INLD and JJP bummer
Once a flag bearers of the farming community in the state and the principal Opposition party in the assembly, Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has conceded political space to its rivals. The INLD has been reduced to a marginal player following a split in the Chautala family. The formation of a splinter outfit, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), desertions and an evaporating vote-bank has reduced the INLD to a fringe player. The party performed poorly in the Lok Sabha polls with all its candidates losing their deposits.
The JJP emerged as an offshoot of the INLD and was once perceived as a rising force in the state. Led by Dushyant Chautala, the grandson of former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, the JJP performed well in the Jind assembly by-poll where Dushyant’s younger sibling Digvijay Chautala finished second. The fledgling outfit, however, failed to impress in the Lok Sabha polls and barring Dushyant, all its candidates lost their deposits.
Alliance break up
The opposition in Haryana has been unable to forge any alliance to restrict the BJP. The INLD and Bahujan Samaj Party tie-up ended before the Lok Sabha polls and so did the BSP’s tie up with the JJP recently. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a fringe player in Haryana, had a tie up with the JJP but it collapsed after a dismal performance in the Lok Sabha polls. The BSP and the Congress recently rejected the possibility of an electoral pact.
2014 voter turnout: About 76 %
2014 results (90-member assembly)
2014 vote share
BJP: About 33 %
INLD: About 24 %
Congress: about 20 %
BSP: About 4.30%