Ellenabad Bypoll Result Shows BJP’s Non-Jat Coalition Is Intact; What It Means For The Farm Agitation
Ellenabad bypoll result shows that the BJP’s non-Jat coalition is intact, farm agitation is chiefly driven by Jat-Jat Sikhs and more confrontational farm leaders become towards the BJP leaders, more counter consolidation of other castes in its favour happens on the ground.
On 29 October, Swarajya had termed the Ellenabad bypoll inconsequential stating that the election didn’t matter as the result was already certain.
“No one should be surprised at the result on 2 November,” the piece read, adding, "the only thing to look out for is how much BJP’s non-Jat coalition is still intact. Given that both the INLD and Congress have fielded Jat candidates and Sikhs in the region will be backing either of them because of the farm laws, the number of votes BJP gets (mostly non Jats, non Sikhs) will be revealing of the impact of farmers agitation on caste lines."
Though, it would still not be wise to draw any larger lessons from the result, the reduced margin of victory for Abhay Chautala is indeed surprising for several reasons:
First, this is Chautala family’s strongest electoral fortress. Abhay won it from here thrice. Before that, his father won from here in 2009 and 1970. In 1967, the first election held after the formation of the state of Haryana, the winner was Om Prakash Chautala’s younger brother Pratap Chautala. In 1968, O P Chautala made the debut but lost narrowly, an election he challenged in the Supreme Court which ruled it void.
In the subsequent bypoll held in 1970, he won and then again in 1972. From 1977 to 2009, the seat was reserved for SCs and Chautala family had to stay away from the constituency but barring 1991, it was always the Chautalas-backed candidate that win from Ellenabad. That’s how tight the family’s hold over the constituency has been since Haryana’s formation 55 years ago.
Second, it’s one of the most rural constituencies where the BJP is supposed to be weaker as it is a party whose vote bank is mostly urban and found along the prosperous Grand Trunk Road belt. The only exception to this is significant Yadav vote bank of the party in Southern Haryana in rural as well as urban areas.
Third, it’s a constituency dominated by voters of Jat community. That’s a big reason why it has remained in such solid grasp of Chautalas for decades.
Fourth, the by-election was held on the issue of farmers agitation as Abhay had resigned from his seat earlier this year to register his protest against the three farm laws passed by the Centre last year. Leading lights of Samyukt Kisan Morcha like Rakesh Tikait (who all but asked people to vote for Abhay) and Gurnam Singh Chaduni organised various rallies against the BJP candidate.
Fifth, the BJP’s candidate Pawan Beniwal left the party before the election to join Congress thinking the party has little chance due to farm protests. The BJP had to loan an outsider Gobind Kanda, brother of tainted Sirsa MLA Gopal Kanda, accused in suicide cases of Geetika Sharma and her mother.
So how did the BJP come so close to beating Abhay Chautala in his own citadel and reduced the victory margin from more than 12,000-odd votes in 2019 to just over 6,500-odd votes this time?
First, many thought that Beniwal leaving the BJP for Congress would dent the battered party’s chances even further and it may even come third. However, the thing to look out for was whether its non-Jat coalition was still intact or not. Now the party getting 12,000+ more votes compared to 2019 has proven that beyond doubt. In fact, it had been fielding a Jat candidate so far. This time, giving the ticket to a non-Jat seems to have attracted more of its core voters to come out to vote.
Second, the Congress party lost around 15,000 votes compared to last time while the INLD gained slightly less than 8,000 odd votes and the BJP-JJP combine got slightly more than 14,000 additional votes.
Booth level vote analysis shows that in 12 Sikh majority villages of the constituency, Abhay Chautala took lead of over 3,200 votes. Congress went from first to third position in these areas. Congress replaced its former candidate Bharat Beniwal and fielded Pawan Beniwal.
Though, both are from same gotra, the former seems to have more grasp over Beniwal khap voters and he along with Bhupinder Hooda, who did only couple of token rallies in the by-poll and called BJP candidate Gobind Kanda a friend (his brother was minister of state for Home in Hooda’s government), are being accused of shifting some Jat voters to the BJP to put state Congress president Kumari Selja in place. She was in charge of the by-poll and is said to have given the ticket to Pawan Beniwal against Hooda’s wishes.
Third, the BJP performed relatively well especially in those villages where BJP candidate was fiercely boycotted by the farmers. In Dhookara village where farmers from various villages held a panchayat to boycott the BJP in the election, the party trailed by mere seven votes. In Malekan village, where Haryana sports minister and former Hockey Olympian Sandeep Singh was not allowed to enter, BJP trailed by just 239 votes.
This reinforces the perception that there is huge gulf in noise and signal and vocally loud protests don’t have much traction beyond the Jat-Jat Sikh communities and confrontational approach taken by farm leaders against the BJP politicians is leading to counter consolidation of other castes in the party’s favour. This would certainly give the BJP confidence to start going back to more and more constituencies and attend programmes of other castes. If the farmers confront, then polarisation would happen and benefit the BJP.
Fourth, the electoral power of Kanda brothers in the region was again at display. Their criminal past notwithstanding, they seem to enjoy a strange pull on the people. It’s pertinent to note that the BJP had shied away from taking Gopal Kanda in the post poll alliance after outrage on social media and mainstream media due to which it had to go in alliance with Dushyant Chautala’s JJP to provide a steady government. Gopal Kanda, initially an ally of Chautalas, was also instrumental in formation of the second Hooda government when he fell short of majority in 2009. He won from Sirsa in 2019. Now his brother came close to beating the INLD in their own backyard. The BJP will certainly be looking at cementing its partnership with the Kandas to strengthen its position in this so-called Bagad area.
But what does the result of this by-poll mean for the farm agitation? What lessons should the leaders draw from it?
First, they need to climb down from cloud 9 and understand the ground reality how limited appeal these farm protests have beyond Jats and Jat Sikhs. They may be thinking that these will hurt the BJP electorally. On the contrary, these may end up in counter consolidation of other castes in favour of the BJP. So, the wise thing to do here would be to wind it up as soon as possible after a deal with the government that allows both parties a face saver.
Second, the confrontational approach must be stopped by protesting farmers immediately. The manner in which some farm groups have been stopping the BJP-JJP leaders from entering villages and shaming them is disgraceful. It’s one thing to register one’s protest but not allowing the leaders to put their point across or meet those constituents who have no problem with them is not done.
The farm leaders have gone to even lengths of not allowing ministers from attending private functions, non-political events and even stopped them from attending post-funeral condolence meetings. If immorality of all this is not making them understand, at least the Ellenabad result should wake them up. Their theatrics are only helping the BJP.
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