One generally avoids employing done-to-death cliches like ‘history repeats itself’ but what alternative do political analysts have when voters throw up the kind of verdict that Haryanvis have done?
The contrarians might channel their inner Mark Twain and argue that history has not repeated itself but it has definitely rhymed. Irrespective of the flourish, the Haryana verdict is certainly a deja vu moment for the state’s politicians.
In 2009, the Congress had bagged nine out of 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Buoyed by such a sweep, the then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda called the elections six months before the expiry of his term.
He was expected to break the party’s 2004 record of winning 67 seats. But when the results came, everyone was left in shock. The Congress had won only 40 seats followed by the Indian National Lok Dal’s (INLD’s) 31.
Seven independents had also won. Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), a new party in the fray, got six seats while the BJP won only four. Hooda’s win margin was the highest in Haryana.
In 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the Lok Sabha polls and won all the 10 seats in Haryana. It went to the assembly elections with a target of 75+ but has ended up with only 40 seats --- doing a Congress.
Congress has doubled its tally from last time but has done an INLD --- winning 31 seats. Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), a breakaway faction of INLD and fighting its first assembly election, surprised one and all by grabbing 10 seats.
The INLD which had once swept 85 seats out of 90 (in 1986) --- the highest ever, got reduced to ONE seat, 18 less than last time.
Voters have done to CM Khattar what they did to Hooda in 2009: both had (mis)understood the landslide Lok Sabha victories as a partial endorsement of their own politics, policies and personalities.
Both were given full freedom in distributing tickets and they bungled up their respective party’s chances on many seats by giving tickets to their personal favourites rather than putting the party’s interests first.
Both became cocky. Even those who voted for the BJP are endorsing the people’s verdict as a much-needed slap on CM Khattar’s wrist for his intermittent public displays of arrogance.
Both centralised decision-making power and sidelined all other regional leaders in the party thereby reducing their influence and ability to get work done, which infuriated their vote bank.
Hooda’s ministers too lost but Khattar’s got decimated and how.
Only one Cabinet minister and one Minister of State could save their seats. The rest --- even big names such as Captain Abhimanyu, Om Prakash Dhankhar, Manish Grover, Ram Bilas Sharma, Krishan Lal Panwar, Kavita Jain, etc. --- were sent packing and some of them lost by huge margins.
Of course, it would be farcical to pin all the blame for their losses on Khattar alone.
They had won in 2014 riding on PM Modi’s coat-tails and many didn’t perform well; some of them treated their constituents with disdain or ignored their concerns, hoping that the party’s caste-based politics would bail them out.
Both Hooda and Khattar got blindsided by the drawbacks of their politics.
Hooda kept his focus on hitherto backward areas like Rohtak, Sonepat, and Jhajjar districts for all his development works. While he swept in these three in 2009 (like he has done this time), voters in other parts of the state punished him.
Similarly, Khattar’s non-jat politics lost steam as polarisation subsided. While top-level corruption certainly disappeared under the BJP rule, it wasn’t such an enthusiastic factor for BJP voters to come out and vote in huge numbers.
This may have benefited the Congress and JJP, whose Jat vote bank’s participation in voting is generally higher than other castes, irrespective of whether there is polarisation on the ground or not.
Cockiness as reflected in ‘Abki baar 75 paar’ also did much damage.
It appears that BJP voters sat at home convinced of BJP’s landslide victory. However, it is important to acknowledge here that this slogan didn’t just impact BJP but did immense psychological damage to the opposition and sapped their morale.
If the opposition parties had had an inkling of the results that have come out, they would have worked doubly hard.
All said and done, the people’s verdict is clear and it is in favour of the BJP but they have fired a warning salvo at CM Khattar. He can form the government and become CM again but his work in the last five years wasn’t good enough to win their full approval.
He has his work cut out for him.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda didn’t mend his ways after 2009 state election that threw up a hung assembly and his party got reduced to 15 seats in 2014.
Will CM Khattar listen to the people or will he meet his predecessor’s fate in 2024?
Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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