Even stevens in Haryana as Congress scripts resounding comeback

The Congress made the most of the anger and dissatisfaction against the BJP in the State to wrest half of the seats.

Published : Jun 12, 2024 00:03 IST - 5 MINS READ

Congress candidate Deepender Singh Hooda with his mother Asha Hooda and wife Shweta Hooda during the celebrations as he wins the Rohtak Lok Sabha seat, on June 4.

Congress candidate Deepender Singh Hooda with his mother Asha Hooda and wife Shweta Hooda during the celebrations as he wins the Rohtak Lok Sabha seat, on June 4. | Photo Credit: Manoj Kumar/ANI

The balanced outcome of the Lok Sabha election in Haryana has set the tone for the Assembly election in the State four months from now, with the Congress, as of now, the clear favourite.

The June 4 electoral result showed the near total rout of the regional powers that once dominated the political landscape in this Jat-dominated State, and turned the contest in Haryana from a multi-cornered fight to a near bipolar contest.

The BJP’s dominance over Haryana abated, with the party’s tally being reduced to half from winning all 10 seats in 2019. The other five seats were won by a resurgent Congress.

Ire of farmers

The BJP’s decade-long rule in the State had created anti-incumbency for the party. Towards the fag end of its tenure, it earned the ire of farmers. Punjab, which has a non-BJP government, provided a safe passage to the farmers who were headed towards the national capital early this year in protest against the Central government’s inaction on various farmer demands, including a guaranteed minimum support price.

The Haryana government dealt with farmers with an iron hand, firing rubber bullets and tear gas shells, and ruthlessly impeding every move they made towards Delhi. One young farmer died in police firing. The BJP paid the price for all these actions. The counter-polarisation of the dominant Jat vote played a crucial role in the falling stock of the BJP this time.

Also Read | How BJP’s social engineering challenges Hooda dynasty’s hold on Haryana

The outcome should have the BJP worried ahead of the Assembly election in October. Apart from a decline in seats, the party also recorded a significant loss in vote share, which fell from 58.21 per cent in 2019 to 46.11 per cent.

The Congress, on the other hand, posted a steep rise in vote share, from 28.51 per cent in 2019 to 43.67 per cent.

BJP’s fortunes

In Haryana, the BJP’s fortunes have tracked its performance at the Centre. In the last 10 years, it has had a leg-up, holding on to gains in Assembly elections held just months after Lok Sabha elections. The two successive BJP governments in Haryana also rode the Modi wave. Thus, the altered scenarios at the national level, with the BJP’s below-par performance, is bound to impact its prospects in the Assembly election. The party will have to do a lot more than just bank on the Modi factor to win Haryana.

In March this year, the BJP replaced its Chief Minister of 10 years, Manohar Lal Khattar, like the Congress did in Punjab just before the 2022 Assembly election. And as in Punjab, where Rahul Gandhi’s experiment to replace old warhorse Captain Amarinder Singh with the Dalit leader Charanjit Singh Channi turned out to be a flop show, in Haryana as well, the BJP’s experiment did not help it much.

The party replaced Khattar with Nayab Singh Saini, an OBC leader, with an eye on the sizeable OBC vote and to mitigate anti-incumbency. Although Khattar was able to save face by winning the Karnal seat emphatically, defeating the Congress candidate by 2,32,577 votes, overall the BJP underperformed.

The dominant Jat community in Haryana, which holds considerable sway in at least four of the 10 Lok Sabha seats, showed its dissatisfaction against the BJP dispensation, which was led by the Hindu-Punjabi Khattar for nearly a decade. Since 1966, when Haryana was carved out of Punjab during the reorganisation of States, Jat leaders have ruled the State for 33 years, and this is why the Congress strategy to consolidate the Jat vote by stirring sentiment around the “alienation of Jat power” helped it make a comeback.

Along with the Congress, the State’s regional parties, which are now losing both track and traction, have for long had hegemony over the Jat voters. Now, with the regional satraps down in the dumps, the Congress has gained, with the Jat votes polled in its favour in many constituencies, including Rohtak, from where Deepender Singh Hooda, the son of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, won by a massive margin of 3,45,298 votes.

The BJP banked on the consolidation of the non-Jat, Dalit, and dominant caste votes, but with limited success. The party suffered as a result of the simmering anger from the protest launched by Olympic wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, Sakshi Malik, and others against former Wrestling Federation of India chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh on sexual harassment charges, in which the wrestlers were maligned.

Also Read | Haryana: Scripting a new chapter

Rising unemployment also hurt the BJP’s prospects. In December 2022, Haryana had the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 37.4 per cent as per data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

The vote share of the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), a regional outfit led by former Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, which until recently was part of the BJP government, dipped from 5 per cent in 2019 to a woeful 0.87 per cent in the election. The JJP was carved out of its parent party, the Indian National Lok Dal, led by Abhay Singh Chautala, son of former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala. Abhay Chautala lost to the BJP’s Naveen Jindal in Kurukshetra, and the INLD’s vote share was a dismal 6.53 per cent. The INLD’s overall vote share in the State was a paltry 1.74 per cent.

Unlike Punjab, the Congress fought the election in alliance with the AAP in Haryana, giving the AAP’s former Rajya Sabha member Sushil Gupta the Kurukshetra ticket. The AAP lost the seat but gained 3.94 per cent of the votes in the State. With the Assembly election round the corner, the Congress cannot be complacent with its performance, but the BJP in Haryana, wrecked by dissent and desertions, will have to go back to the drawing board to reformulate its strategy.

Gautam Dheer has been covering policy and politics in Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh for over two decades.

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