Why CM Khattar Almost Lost Haryana
Interestingly, whatever the BJP lost in Haryana has nothing to do with Jat antipathy.
The community anyway was not a BJP base.
Truth be told, bad choice of candidates, internal party politics and unnecessary self-aggrandizement on part of Khattar did him in.
In December last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept mayoral elections in five major cities of Haryana. It was an inflection point from where Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s fortunes took a turn for the better. Until then, his authority was constantly challenged even within his own party.
In January, he went all guns blazing for the by-poll in Jind, a seat in the Jat heartland which the BJP had never won before. The party made history as it trounced the Chautalas in their own backyard.
In the general elections in May, the BJP took leads in 79 out of 90 Assembly segments in the state. Going into Assembly polls, CM Khattar and his party were so overconfident that they thought their win was certain and the only thing that needed to be decided was whether they will win 60 seats or 75-plus.
In such a scenario, getting 40 is certainly a big jolt and at one point, during counting, trends showed both the BJP and the Congress at 35 each. In fact, Congress lost five seats with a margin of less than 2,550 votes and four of these seats with less than 1,500 votes. If the Congress had won in these areas, it would be at the 36 mark, while BJP at 35.
CM Khattar almost lost the state. Even PM Modi couldn’t make an impact. He addressed rallies in seven Assembly constituencies — Dadri, Gohana, Sirsa, Hisar, Ellenabad, Rewari and Ballabgarh. BJP lost in five of these.
How and why did the party go from leads in 79 out of 90 seats to winning only 40 out of 90 in a matter of only five months?
To blame it on silent Jat consolidation is lazy. There was no special mobilisation against BJP this time. The Jat voter has shown the same disdain he showed to the BJP last time.
For better understanding, Haryana can be split into three political belts: Jatland (comprising of Deshwali, Bagar and Bangar cultural belts), South Haryana (Ahir-Meo dominated) and GT road belt.
This is a broad classification and doesn’t necessarily mean that all seats in Jatland are dominated by Jats. Similarly, in the Ahir-Meo belt which is South Haryana, Jats are in significant numbers in Faridabad and Palwal. Similarly, they have good presence in Panipat district as well in the GT road belt.
As far as Jatland is concerned, non-Jats such as Bishnois, Rajputs, Brahmins, Punjabis, Sikhs, etc are present in large numbers.
Jatland roughly comprises of Assembly segments in Sirsa parliamentary seat on Punjab border to Sonipat and Rohtak on Delhi border through Bhiwani and Hisar seats. This region has 40 Assembly seats. In 2014, both the BJP and Congress took 11 seats each. INLD had won 14.
This time, BJP has won the same number of seats: 11. It lost some seats but gained elsewhere. Overall, it evened out. Congress has increased its tally by four, taking it to 15. INLD got reduced to 1. JJP, which split from INLD, won nine seats. So essentially, Congress benefited from the INLD-JJP split in the Jatland.
In South Haryana, BJP gained one seat. Out of 23 total seats, it won 15 this time compared to Congress’ 6 which also increased its tally by 2 seats. The big loser was INLD which won four seats in 2014 but neither INLD nor JJP could open an account here this time. Their two seats went to Congress, one to BJP and one to an Independent (I am not talking about specific seats here but overall numbers in the region).
So far so good for the BJP. Out of 63 seats in these two areas, BJP only improved its tally by 1 seat.
Let’s now come to the GT road belt where BJP won in a landslide in 2014, winning 22 out of 27 seats. This area is one of the most prosperous in Haryana because major cities such as Karnal, Kurukshetra, Panipat, Ambala, Panchkula and Yamunanagar come under this belt.
Except in Panipat district, the Jat factor is almost negligible here.
This is where the BJP has stumbled big time. It could win only 14 seats, 8 less than what it won in the previous election. Congress gained at the cost of BJP, increasing its tally from 1 to 9.
The BJP’s Jat-non-Jat politics failed here due to less Jat population. Polarisation that gripped the whole state once, subsided and bad candidate selection, local issues trumped, thereby benefiting the Congress.
Even in CM Khattar’s own Karnal district, where BJP swept all the five seats last time, Congress managed to extract two seats from the BJP.
The above is a region-wise analysis. But the loss in GT road belt could’ve been compensated by right candidate selection and winning some seats elsewhere. The party gave complete control to CM Khattar in this area but he seems to have bungled it up.
Consider Dadri seat where BJP’s Sombir Sangwan had come second in 2014 and was all set to win it for the party this time but his ticket was cut and given to a novice like Babita Phogat.
Sangwan revolted, contested independently and won. Phogat came third. Similarly, Yogeshwar Dutt, a Brahmin, was given ticket from Baroda, a seat overwhelmingly dominated by Jat community.
The BJP was hoping that Jat votes will get divided between JJP and the Congress and non-Jats will help Dutt sail through. But it didn’t happen. Congress won despite JJP getting more than 30,000 votes.
In Badshahpur, BJP was a favourite to win, but Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit used his influence to cut the ticket of sitting MLA Rao Narbir Singh, who is close to CM Khattar. Rao Inderjit was seeking a ticket for his own daughter from Rewari. When denied, he got his rival Narbir’s ticket cut as compensation. The party had to comply as Rao Inderjit wields influence in over 10 Assembly seats of South Haryana dominated by Yadavs.
If Narbir had got the ticket, then he could’ve retained his seat but Manish Yadav, a newbie, lost to an independent.
Party insiders say that CM Khattar, who has no love lost for Rao Inderjit, prodded BJP’s ticket aspirant Randhir Singh Kapriwas to fight as an independent from Rewari, undermining BJP’s official candidate Sunil Kumar.
Rao Inderjit and his daughter campaigned for Kumar extensively but he lost to Congress candidate and Inderjit’s arch rival Captain Ajay Yadav’s son Chiranjeev Rao (married to Lalu Yadav’s daughter).
Khattar-backed Kapriwas (as per insiders) got 36,689 votes while BJP lost by only 1,317 votes. This seat also could’ve been won easily.
Ditto for Mahendragarh seat where BJP rebel Sandeep Singh took over 30,000 votes while official candidate lost by only 10,000 odd votes.
The party made such mistakes in almost every region of the state. No wonder that out of seven independents who won, five belonged to the BJP. Then there are those seats where BJP rebels spoiled BJP’s chances as mentioned above about Mahendragarh. Same story played out in Sirsa as well.
Another factor that almost did the BJP in was arrogance and bad performance of CM Khattar’s ministers.
Except for Health Minister Anil Vij, no one could retain their seat. In fact, their margins of loss are so big that they have put the party to shame.
The BJP’s performance among Jats looks particularly worse because, out of 19 candidates fielded by the party from the community, only three won. Last time, it had fielded 24 Jats. Six won.
But it’s not right to blame Jats alone here for not backing the party. It was common knowledge that the Jat leaders the Haryana BJP was trying to project are electoral lightweights.
They couldn’t do much development work in their own area despite being ministers. Moreover, the party relied on celebrity Jats like wrestler Babita Phogat and Tiktok star Sonali Phogat rather than giving tickets to winnable candidates like Sombir Sangwan (Dadri) or Balraj Kundu (Meham).
It’s not the Jats or the Jatland which put a spoke in CM Khattar’s wheels. He has his own party politics, his campaign strategy, and his candidate selection to blame for this dull performance.
Many BJP supporters (both online and offline) started treating CM Khattar as the Modi of Haryana. The short-lived success of anti-Jat politics was seen as an achievement and approval of his policies.
The triumph of PM Modi in Haryana was viewed as also an endorsement of CM Khattar’s personality.
It is the result of such miscalculation that he ended up doing 77 rallies across the state — covering almost every constituency. Before the candidates were announced, he went on a 22-day Jan Ashirwad Yatra canvassing for himself throughout the state.
This branding around CM Khattar proved to be a bad strategy. As the results proved, he is no Modi.
There are many important lessons he and the BJP will need to learn from this as they kickstart their second term. Alliance with Chautalas means that it will have to throw its Jat versus non-Jat strategy into the dustbin. The biggest challenge for it now is how to keep its non-Jat vote bank happy — especially Brahmins, Banias and Yadavs.
The BJP hasn’t done well in reserved constituencies too. Out of 17 SC seats, it won only five, four less than last time. The BJP can’t afford to upset both Jats and Dalits. These combined with Muslims comprise 50 per cent of the electorate.
The party will have to go back to the drawing board and reorient its caste strategy in Haryana.
The first step is learning the right lessons from the setback. Jats and Jatland have nothing to do with this. The party and state leadership must take all the blame for bad politics, below par performance of the government and banking on dubious strategies.
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