Lok Sabha Elections 2024: BJP Faces Huge Churn in Haryana, How Much Can it Lose?

Unemployment & agrarian distress have become a major challenge for BJP in Haryana.

4 min read

Haryana votes on 25 May for the Lok Sabha elections but the state is witnessing a political churn that goes beyond these elections.

Less than two months after BJP changed its chief minister in the state, replacing Manohar Lal Khattar with Nayab Singh Saini, three Independent MLAs withdrew support from the government, reportedly reducing it to a minority government.

But even this crisis is symptomatic of a larger problem. There are reports of large scale rural unrest against the BJP government due to agrarian distress and lack of job opportunities.

It is important to remember that Haryana has been a bellwether state nationally for over two decades. The state has overwhelmingly voted for the party that's winning at the national level.

  • What is going wrong for the BJP?

  • How much can it impact the Lok Sabha elections?

  • How is the Opposition placed?

Let's try and answer these three questions in this piece.


What's Going Wrong For the BJP in Haryana?

Job Crisis

The biggest reason is jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the state has an unemployment rate of 37.4%, the highest in the country. The Haryana government has disputed these figures.

However, even according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey, unemployment in Haryana is at 9 percent which is more than double that of the national average.

The extent of the unemployment problem in Haryana can be seen from the fact that that young men from Kaithal and Kurukshetra went to Russia as there were no job opportunities back home. They ended up being duped by agents and are now being forced to fight in the Russian army against Ukraine.

But it's not just the youth. Even MGNREGA workers in Haryana are complaining that they haven't been receiving work under the Act.

The desire for government jobs is also linked to agrarian distress in the region. Many youth from agrarian families don't see agriculture as a viable profession any more.

These two factors - jobs and agrarian distress - have also caused the unravelling of BJP's social engineering in the state.

Social Engineering

The BJP has been in power in Haryana for 10 years now. It cleverly maintained its hold in the state by consolidating non-Jats against Jat domination. Jats account for 27 percent of the state's population and have dominated Haryana's politics.

The violence in the Jat reservation agitation further helped it consolidate Upper Castes and OBCs while a three-way split in Jat votes - between Congress, INLD, JJP - further worked to the BJP's advantage.

Moreover, even a sizable of Jats tended to vote for the BJP at the national level due to PM Narendra Modi's appeal.

This social engineering model has now begun unravelling.

It has created an acute alienation among Jats. Jats have been at the fulcrum of not one but as many as three mass protests against the BJP government - the 2016 Jat reservation agitation, the 2020-21 farmers protest, and the 2023 wrestlers' protest.

This combined with the unemployment situation has turned Jats decisively against the BJP.

Secondly, the job crisis and agrarian distress are affecting non-Jat communities as badly, especially in rural areas. There is increased disaffection even among OBCs, Dalits and Upper Castes based in villages due to this.

This has diluted caste polarisation in Haryana and it has become tougher for the BJP to consolidate non-Jats against Jats.


Will This Impact Lok Sabha Elections?

This is tricky to predict because Assembly elections in Haryana are due in a few months time. It is possible that at least one section of disaffected voters will choose to save their disaffection for the state election and persist with PM Modi at the Lok Sabha level. The question, therefore, would be what percentage of disaffected voters will vote against BJP even at the Lok Sabha level and what percentage will save it for the Assembly election later this year?

This will directly decide whether the BJP faces minor losses in terms of seats or if the state sees a major reversal.

The BJP swept all 10 seats in Haryana in 2019, riding on the post-Pulwama attack Modi wave.

BJP won two seats - Karnal and Faridabad - with massive margins of over 6 lakh votes and six seats with big margins of 3-5 lakh. The margins were smaller in Rohtak (7,503) and Sonepat (1.6 lakh). These also happen to be seats where the Hoodas were contesting from the Congress.

Naturally, Congress would require a very minor swing to win Rohtak and even in Sonepat the required rate will be lesser than other seats.

The question is whether the Congress has done enough ensure the kind of swings required to turn the other seats and even Sonepat for that matter.


What are the Opposition's Prospects?

A lot would depend on the extent to which the Congress is able to consolidate anti-BJP votes. In the last two elections, the party did lose out due to the fact that these votes were being split between itself and the INLD and the JJP as well after 2019.

This time, however, it is likely that if voters differentiate the national election from the state election, the Congress may be able to consolidate these votes.

This is happening most dramatically in a seat like Sirsa in Northern Haryana. This is the core area for the Chautalas, who control both the INLD and the JJP. But the Congress is said to be getting a good response in the seat.

What has happened is that the INLD has weakened considerably after the Chautala family split and the JJP lost credibility for sticking to its alliance with the BJP even in the middle of the farmers' protests and wrestlers' protest.

Their weakening has also enabled Bhupinder Singh Hooda to emerge as the tallest Jat leader in the state.

There is a sentiment among a section of anti-BJP voters that at least in the national election, the choice has to be the Congress.

Even within the Congress, there has been an acknowledgement on the part of the high command that only the Hoodas can deliver Haryana for them.

This was also reflected in ticket selection as Hooda rivals like Randeep Singh Surjewala and Kiran Chaudhary were sidelined. However, the party fielded another Hooda rival - Kumari Selja - from Sirsa and presently she is leading a strong campaign in the seat.

Though the Hoodas' fortunes are on the rise, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to overcome the Modi factor in the Lok Sabha elections.

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