Haryana, the land of the epic Mahabharata and home to modern-day warriors serving the Indian armed forces with pride, was not particularly a Bharatiya Janata Paty (BJP) stronghold until 2014. The Narendra Modi wave swept the state, bringing much joy to the party in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP juggernaut continued to roll in the Assembly elections too, with the party winning a simple majority in October 2014.
Manohar Lal Khattar, a non-Jat, was appointed the Chief Minister. This was a brave move in the din of caste politics. Haryana, with Jats forming 30 per cent of the state’s population, had been a Jat-dominated polity, especially so in the last 10 years with Congress backing its Chief Minister (CM) Bhupinder Singh Hooda strongly.
In fact, the last non-Jat CM before Khattar was Bhajan Lal, whose term ended in 1996. Since then, the state was governed by Jat CMs such as Bansi Lal, Om Prakash Chautala and later Hooda up until 2014.
BJP, the only party seen as not Jat-leaning, decided to change this legacy. Khattar, a relative political light-weight when he took over as the CM, has run a tight ship, helping the party expand further in the state during his tenure. Five years later, the BJP is in play in all 10 seats in the state.
Narendra Modi remains immensely popular in the state, especially in wake of the Balakot airstrikes and his tough posture against terror and a pro-armed forces image. Khattar has proven to be a good administrator, learning and adapting quickly, and addressing long-standing issues of the state with sincerity and a sense of urgency.
This double track record – a potent concoction of nationalism, implementation of the One Rank One Pension (OROP), and a clean and transparent state government, should ideally hold the BJP in good stead in the Lok Sabha election. Additionally, the Opposition is a divided house with most seats going for multi-cornered fights and a three-way split of Jat votes.
The Opposition is four-pronged. Congress continues to be a force in the state with the Hooda family calling the shots. The Jananayak Janata Party (JJP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) alliance has grown in recent months. The JJP is led by Dushyant Chautala, who broke away from the Chautala family party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) along with a large chunk of cadre in many districts. The fifth challenge comes from the alliance of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP) of Rajkumar Saini.
Saini, a sitting BJP Member of Parliament, left the party to go solo.
The Congress, the JJP and the INLD are seen as dynastic parties. The Congress is contesting all 10 seats – eight of its candidates come from political families.
The results of the Lok Sabha elections in Haryana will set the stage for the Vidhan Sabha elections in October. The state generally sticks with the party in Delhi when voting in the state election.
New Parties And Alliances Could Challenge Traditional Equations
The 2019 Lok Sabha election is happening in Haryana in the backdrop of significant changes in party constitutions and alliances. Pre-2014, Congress was the central pole of Haryana politics with the BJP and other regional parties in the periphery. However, the last five years have seen the BJP emerge much stronger and is now firmly in the saddle as the key party to beat.
2014 saw an alliance between BJP and Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC). HJC has since merged into Congress, a homecoming of sorts for Bhajan Lal’s son. The developing strength and cadre base has given the BJP the confidence to go it alone in Haryana in the upcoming elections.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is supporting the BJP this time, a departure from 2014 when it had allied with the INLD. A key development has been the split of erstwhile INLD into two factions. While Om Prakash Chautala and his younger son Abhay Chautala retain control of the INLD, his elder son Ajay Chautala and his grandsons Dushyant and Digvijay have formed the JJP. While the INLD is contesting the election on its own, the JJP has allied with AAP.
JJP and Rajkumar Saini’s LSP are a recent phenomenon and yet untested in electoral politics. That said, the result of the recent by-poll in the Jind Assembly segment indicates their ability to upset electoral calculations of more established political parties and make the elections more interesting.
Jat Versus Non-Jat Puzzle
With 30 per cent of the state’s population, Jats have been the dominant force in Haryana politics. Seven out of Haryana’s 10 chief ministers have been Jats. While there have always been undercurrents of polarisation among Jats and non-Jats, the 2016 Jat agitation for reservation and the concomitant violence has furthered the divide.
The Congress and the INLD are seen as pro-Jat parties. The erstwhile Congress CM, Bhupinder Hooda and the INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala are seen as the tallest Jat leaders in the state. However, the JJP leader Dushyant Chautala is fast emerging as a challenger to both with rising popularity especially among the Jat youth. Om Prakash Chautala’s incarceration and JJP’s second position in the Jind by-poll relegating the Congress and the INLD to third and fifth position respectively has only served to strengthen Dushyant’s standing as a Jat leader. The Jat heartland of Sonepat will also witness a contest between Bhupinder Hooda and Dushyant’s younger brother Digvijay Chautala. This is a battle to establish supremacy among Jats ahead of the Assembly elections later in the year.
The BJP on the other hand is seen more as a non-Jat party. While BJP’s leadership does have a significant Jat representation (Union Minister Birendra Singh, state party president Subhash Barala and state minister Capt. Abhimanyu), the primary face is CM Manohar Lal Khattar. Also, two other union ministers from the state are non-Jats. The results of the 2014 Assembly elections also gave a clear indication of caste preferences. A significant chunk of the BJP’s seats came from the north and south of Haryana, even as it had a low hit rate in the Jat-land of eastern and western Haryana.
BJP has been trying hard to consolidate the non-Jat votes by actively wooing Yadavs, Gujjars and Sainis over and above its traditional upper caste vote base of Brahmins, Punjabis, Rajputs and Banias. The high voltage competition between the Congress, the JJP and the INLD for the Jat vote will likely benefit BJP as well.
Influence Of The Self-Styled Godman
Self-styled godmen have been influencing elections in different states in recent decades. Haryana has had its own share of those, with Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda and Sant Rampal. These have good influence across four constituencies – Sirsa, Hisar, Kurukshetra and Ambala. While politicians cutting across parties have humoured these godmen given their huge following especially in the Dalit community, the last five years saw the Haryana government take strong measures in implementing the law. That has seen both Ram Rahim and Sant Rampal go behind bars. Even behind bars, they continue to exert influence over their followers through their proxies. Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim’s arrest in fact resulted in wide-spread rioting with resultant police action killing over 30 people.
While the Dera and Sant Rampal followers are yet to open their cards on support for any political party, given recent actions, the BJP may have to prepare for opposition from these camps.
Clean And Transparent Governance By Khattar
Manohar Lal Khattar has emerged as a surprise package. Often criticised for his subaltern ways by opponents and many within the BJP itself, Khattar has largely run an efficient and corruption-free government.
His decision to hire locals and fill more than 18,000 government vacancies in a transparent manner has been a perception masterstroke. Khattar’s focus on campaigns such as Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, which have led to tremendous improvement in gender ratio – a longstanding problem in the state – have got him national recognition. His strong urban hold was proven when the BJP won the five direct mayoral elections in December in Hisar, Karnal, Panipat Rohtak and Yamunanagar.
Modi’s Popularity And Solid Impact Of Central Government Actions
Haryana is the land of the armed forces. Village after village prepares its youth to join the forces and serve the nation. As an emotional plank, nationalism has very high resonance in the state.
The Modi government’s tough stance on internal security is an advantage in Haryana. The way his government has dealt with Pakistan-originated terror makes him a hero in Haryanvi folklore. To its credit, the Modi government also implemented the long-due OROP.
Modi had addressed a big rally in Bhiwani in the run up to the 2014 election. That rally is generally considered the start of his love affair with veterans and the armed forces. This time as well, every Modi rally in Haryana will have strong mention of the OROP issue as well as his free hand to the Indian armed forces.
Haryana has also benefited from infrastructure investments made by the Modi government. The highways meant to decongest Delhi traffic have created better connectivity for various parts of the state. The Modi government has also planned for a high-speed rail link between Delhi and Panipat – Sonepat regions, thus extending seamless access to the National Capital Region for north Haryana.
The five-cornered fight on 12 May in Haryana will produce several good contests. The BJP has its nose ahead. It now remains to be seen how heavyweights from other parties will individually take on the BJP’s top-down appeal and bottom-up organisational ability.
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