In Haryana, Opposition infighting may help BJP
The BJP, which formed the government on its own for the first time in Haryana in 2014, riding the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appears to have a decisive edge over its rivals after the parliamentary polls.Updated: Sep 25, 2019, 11:59 IST
Buoyed by its sweep of this summer’s Lok Sabha elections in Haryana, the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is confident about its prospects in the assembly polls scheduled on Saturday for October 21.
The BJP, which formed the government on its own for the first time in Haryana in 2014, riding the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appears to have 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 %.
It has been aided by an Opposition that is plagued by infighting and dwindling vote bases.
Jat and non-Jat divide
After the BJP won its first majority in Haryana, the party chose to break with tradition and name a non-Jat chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. The 65-year-old leader, hailing from the Punjabi community, broke the 18-year-old hegemony of Jat chief ministers.
Before Khattar, the last non-Jat leader to have ascended to the chief minister’s chair 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, an influential community with ties to farming and land in the state who make up almost a fourth of Haryana’s 25 million population, and the non-Jat communities has always shaped the political landscape of the state.
The 2016 Jat quota stir, demanding reservation in government jobs and education, changed longstanding community equations for good.
The arson and violence during the 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 and community lines since all the MCs - Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat, Rohtak and Hisar - where the BJP won, has a significant Punjabi and Vaishya community bases.
While in the 2014 assembly polls, the saffron party had done well in the northern districts of Yamunanagar, Karnal, Panipat, Kurukshetra, Panchkula and Ambala by registering wins in 21 of the 23 seats, primarily due to the overwhelming support of non-Jat voters, in the 2018 polls to urban bodies, the BJP 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 bypoll, a contest in which two Jat candidates from rival parties faced off with the BJP’s candidateKrishan Middha, who hailed from the Punjabi community. Middha won by 12,000 votes. The outcome indicated polarisation of the electorate in terms of Jats and non-Jats in a constituency where Jats make up 27% of the electorate. Kumar said that the polarisation 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
Reeling from its rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress high command has taken time in addressing issues plaguing the Haryana unit of the party. 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 the party’s sinking fortunes in the state. The party’s plan seems to concentrate on the Dalit and Jat voters who jointly make up around 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 to act soon after the Lok Sabha poll results to shatter this impression. They haven’t been able to do it so far,’’ said a bureaucrat familiar with the political climate of the state, requesting anonymity.
Decimation of INLD
Once a flag bearer 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 entity 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. Five-time CM Chautala and his son Ajay are in jail for corruption.
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.
The opposition in Haryana has been unable to forge any alliance to restrict the BJP’s rise. The INLD and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has some base among the state’s Dalit communities, ended their tie-up before the Lok Sabha polls and so did the BSP and JJP, which formed a short-lived coalition.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a fringe player in Haryana, had joined hands 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.