Perfect ten

Print edition : June 07, 2019

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar with party workers after the BJP emerged victorious in all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, in Chandigarh on May 23. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

The BJP scuppers the Congress’ hopes of making a comeback in the State and pushes its erstwhile ally, the INLD, out of the reckoning.

If there was one State other than Punjab where the Congress had hoped to make a comeback, it was Haryana. Yet, the party was routed in an unprecedented wave that not only consumed heavyweight leaders such as former Chief Minister and four-time MP Bhupinder Hooda, his son and three-time MP Deepender Hooda and State party chief Ashok Tanwar but also the entire non-Congress opposition represented by various factions of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and family members of former Chief Ministers Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which used to always ride on the shoulders of other parties in Haryana, managed to break the hold of all the traditional clans in the State. It won all the 10 parliamentary seats in the State without any regional allies on a vote share of 58.02 per cent against the Congress’ 28.42 per cent. The INLD, which for years was either the ruling party or the main opposition, had a vote share of just 1.89 per cent. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) secured a 3.64 per cent vote share. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contested three seats.

This was the Congress’ worst ever performance in Haryana since the State’s formation in 1966. Even at the height of the anti-Congress wave in 2014, the party won one seat in Haryana. (The BJP got seven seats and the INLD two in 2014.)

Predominance of nationalism rhetoric

The BJP’s decisive victory this time has been attributed to the party’s “India needs a strong leader” rhetoric. As one observer said: “Post Pulwama and Balakot, the scenario changed completely. The BJP banked heavily on the support of 16 lakh ex-servicemen families. Prior to that, the BJP was not confident. A sitting MP like Dharambir Singh from Bhiwani-Mahendargarh was in two minds about contesting. [He eventually did, and won by over four lakh votes against Shruti Choudhary, granddaughter of Bansi Lal.] In fact, the BJP also changed two of its sitting MPs from Karnal and Kurukshetra.”

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had admitted in an interview to a national daily that Balakot would benefit the party in the same way that the 1971 war benefited the Congress.

Farmer dissatisfaction over lack of remunerative prices for crops, delayed procurement of the kharif crop followed by delayed payment, the Jat-non-Jat divide in the aftermath of a violent Jat agitation for reservation—even these could not impact the BJP’s electoral fortunes. All that resentment seemed to have been drowned by the narrative of nationalism peddled by the BJP leadership. The complete decimation of the Congress, which was hopeful of winning at least three if not four seats, cannot be explained otherwise.

The victory margins were huge, barring Rohtak where the sitting MP, Deepender Hooda of the Congress, lost to Arvind Sharma, a former Congress MP, by just over 7,000 votes. His father, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who was twice Chief Minister, lost to the sitting MP Ramesh Chander Kaushik by over 1.6 lakh votes. In Ambala (reserved), former Union Minister Kumari Selja lost to sitting MP Rattan Lal Kataria by over three lakh votes. In Gurgaon, Union Minister Rao Inderjit Singh retained the seat, defeating Captain Ajay Yadav of the Congress by more than 3.8 lakh votes.

Multi-cornered contests

In much of central and north-west India, the contest was expected to be a direct one between the BJP and the Congress. In Haryana, however, there were multi-cornered contests in constituencies such as Hisar and Sirsa, both of which were won by the INLD in 2014. Om Prakash Chautala’s disgruntled son, Dushyant Chautala, who won from Hisar on the INLD ticket in 2014, left the party last year to form the Jannayak Janata Party. This year, he contested against former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal’s great-grandson Bhavya Bishnoi; the BJP’s Brijendra Singh, son Union Minister Birender Singh; and the popular trade union worker Sukhbir Singh from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Brijendra Singh won by over three lakh votes, with Dushyant Chautala as his nearest opponent. The INLD nominee for the seat polled only 9,761 votes. The INLD had hoped for a tie-up with the BJP, but that did not come about.

In Karnal, the BJP’s Sanjay Bhatia, sitting MP and State general secretary of his party, won against the Congress MLA Kuldeep Sharma by more than 6.5 lakh votes.

In Kurukshetra, the BJP let go of its rebel MP, Raj Kumar Saini, following violent protests against reservation that created a virtual social cleavage between Jats and non-Jats. Apprehensive that Saini’s nomination would alienate Jats, the BJP fielded Nayab Singh from the Jat community. He won by over three lakh votes over his rival from the Congress.

The only constituency that the INLD hoped to win this time was Sirsa, where Congress State president Ashok Tanwar was also in the fray. But Tanwar and the sitting MP Charanjit Singh Rori lost to Sunita Duggal of the BJP, who won the reserved seat with a margin of over three lakh votes. Indeed, Rori, who was deemed as the strongest candidate of the INLD, especially after last year’s split, came in third with fewer than one lakh votes.

Results crucial for all players

The results are crucial for all players concerned, as Assembly elections are due in October. The Congress is the principal opposition party in the State. But given the dismal performance of its leadership, which is also deeply divided, it is unlikely to pose a serious challenge. The INLD, weakened by the split, is not a serious threat either, especially with half its leadership in jail. Dushyant Chautala’s inability to hold on to Hisar, the only seat where his Jannayak Janata Party was in a position to offer a challenge, means that his party is also not in the reckoning.

A unified opposition is not a possibility, given the political differences among the non-BJP parties and their competitive claims on the Jat vote. The BJP, which used to be viewed as a party of non-Jats, seems to have broken that jinx in recent elections. Of the 10 winners, two are former Congress MPs, while one is the son of a former Congress MP who is now a BJP Union Minister.

In 2009, the Congress won nine of the 10 parliamentary seats. Although it is now the only viable opposition to the BJP, it appears to have been decimated in this election.