The results for Haryana are trickling in. The BJP’s worst nightmare has come true, as the state seems to be headed for a hung assembly. The party, which was expected to slide home with two-third majority (as per poll of polls), is likely to fall short of majority. At the time of writing this piece (around 5 PM), the BJP was leading in 39, and Congress in 32 seats. Dushyant Chautala’s JJP (10) and independents (7) emerged as kingmakers.
The BJP seems to have borne the brunt of Jat anger, unemployment and rural distress in these elections. As per news reports, Amit Shah has summoned chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to Delhi. ‘Jod-tod’ politics and negotiations have started. The BJP can still form the government with the help of independents, but its new fort has been breached.
While the BJP has gained 3 percent vote share, the Congress has gained 8 percent, at the expense of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The lion’s share of INLD’s vote share has been taken over by splinter group JJP. Axis, which predicted 38 seats (32-44) for BJP in Haryana and a hung assembly, has got it right again.
Haryana’s Caste Factor
Caste plays an important role in Haryana’s elections. Jats have dominated the political spectrum for decades, and hold the keys to power. Jats account for 27 percent of the population. 37 out of 90 seats are dominated by Jats. BJP irked the community by installing a non-Jat (Manohar Lal Khattar) as CM in the state, ahead of young Jat leader Captain Abhimanyu. In 2014, it mainly won due to a split of Jat votes between the INLD and Congress. Lok Dal received 42 percent of Jat support, Congress 24 percent, and BJP only 17 percent in the 2014 state elections, as per a CSDS study.
The party was successful in consolidating the non-Jat voters in its favour which led to its unprecedented victory in a three-way race.
The BJP was able to extend its base beyond its traditional vote bank of Brahmins and Baniyas. Dalits which constitute one-fifth of the electorate and had traditionally voted for the Congress, also warmed up to the BJP, helped by the support announced by Dera Sacha Sauda. The BJP received 47 percent of Brahmin votes, 40 percent of OBC votes, 36 percent of Sikh votes and 20 percent of SC votes as per CSDS.
The Jat agitation in 2016 and violent protests thereafter further strained the relations between the BJP and the community. In the 2019 general elections, things changed for the better for BJP. The nationalism factor, the split in INLD, and the treatment of Hooda by Congress leadership, disillusioned a section of the Jat voters. The 10 percent reservation to economically weaker sections by the central government before the polls, placated a section of Jats and brought them closer to the party.
Has BJP Ignored Jats?
In the general elections, 52 percent of Jats voted for the BJP, an increase of 20 percent compared to 2014. The party also received 51 percent of Scheduled Caste votes in line with Dalit votes shifting to the BJP nationally, aided by the weakening of the BSP. This probably gave a false sense of confidence to the BJP. It felt it was able to create a social bloc comprising Jats as well as non-Jats, which looked formidable and unbeatable. Except for the minorities, the BJP had secured majority support from all other caste / community groups.
It ignored Jats in ticket distribution, giving only 20 to the community leaders. Congress gave 29 tickets, on the other hand.
Congress also placated Hooda and removed Tanwar as state president after Sonia entered the scene. Jats who were used to being in power were feeling left out in the new Khattar dispensation and hence decided to back Congress this time around. A tactical voting pattern is observed in state elections. Wherever they felt JJP is strong and in a better position to defeat BJP instead, they voted for it.
Jat-Dalit-Muslim Combination Seems to Have Worked For Congress
BJP’s tallest Jat leader in the state, Captain Abhimanyu, and state president Subhash Barala, lost by big margins in Narnaund (12,029) and Tohana (52,302). While the party did placate the Maratha community in Maharashtra by providing reservations and inducting many strong satraps into the party fold, there was no such effort made in Haryana.
The Dalits, despite a sizeable population, have traditionally not had a fair share of power in Haryana politics.
Baba Ram Rahim’s arrest and denial of parole may have angered the community. Also, Dera didn’t give a call this time like the last elections, to vote for the BJP. The Congress made Sheilja Kumar, a Dalit, their state president. Consequently, the Congress received 37 percent Dalit support in the elections.
The Jat-Dalit-Muslim combination seems to have worked for the Congress, and helped it improve its performance.
In Scheduled Caste clusters, as per TOI data hub, the BJP tally is down from 9 to 4. In Kurukshetra region which has 30 percent Jat population, the BJP’s tally is down by 4.
Why BJP Should’ve Focused on Local Issues Rather Than National Ones
The BJP’s strategy of pushing national issues in state elections, doesn’t seem to have worked well. Contrary to popular perception, as per Axis poll, nationalism and Article 370 were of high priority for only 5 percent of voters in the state. Local issues like development, unemployment and farm distress were the most important issues for 60 percent of the voters.
Rural distress also seems to have played a vital role, with BJP losing 6 seats in the rural belt as compared to 2014.
The results prove that the Indian voter is ahead of analysts, media and pollsters. S/he smartly differentiates between state and national elections, and votes on regional issues. It’s a setback of sorts for BJP, as Modi’s popularity is very high in the state. Almost half of the BJP voters backed the party in the 2019 general elections, where it swept all the 10 seats — all because of the Modi factor.
It’s a learning for the Congress as well — to nurture strong regional leaders, and leave it to them to contest, as they know better. The national leadership held only two rallies in the state, which helped the party localise the elections and take away the focus from central issues and presidential-style polls.
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(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)