A split verdict in Haryana

Print edition : April 01, 2000

These articles on the electoral verdicts in Haryana, Orissa and Manipur, among the four States where Assembly elections were held recently, follow from the first two instalments of the feature, which were published in the March 17 and March 31 issues of Frontline. The articles on Haryana and Orissa draw on the findings of a post-election survey conducted by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The survey was sponsored by New Delhi Television (NDTV), and the results were broadcast on the Star News Channel.

The survey was conducted in 15 randomly selected constituencies in each of the two States. The total number of respondents was 1,336 in Orissa and 1,182 in Haryana. The respondents were selected randomly from the voters' lists of four polling booths in e ach of the constituencies sampled. The interviews were carried out in the days (or the day) after polling and before the counting of votes began on February 25.

The survey was coordinated by S.N. Misra in Orissa, and Jitendra Prasad and Sudhir Hilsayan in Haryana.


IN India's electoral history, it is difficult to recall a parallel to the seemingly carefully crafted split verdict witnessed in the Haryana Assembly elections. There have been few instances of two allied parties contesting virtually as equals, and one o f them scoring a resounding victory while the other is soundly defeated. Given that the National Democratic Alliance won all 10 parliamentary seats in the State in the general elections of September-October 1999 (and established leads in all but five Ass embly segments), it was a foregone conclusion that the Indian National Lok Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine would secure an overwhelming majority in the Assembly elections. The only question was: would the INLD secure a majority on its own and thus ren der the alliance arrangement redundant? In the end, the alliance did not do as well as it was expected to, yet the INLD led by Om Prakash Chautala secured a clear majority. The NDA won 53 of the 90 seats and secured 38.1 per cent of the popular vote, but that bit of statistics is of little consequence, given the relative performance of the INLD and the BJP.

The performance of the two allies offers a study in contrasts. This election belonged to Om Prakash Chautala, whose party won 47 seats and 29.2 per cent of the popular vote; in effect, the INLD secured, on an average, 43.8 per cent of the votes in the 61 constituencies that it contested. Despite the fact that he has been out of power for the past eight years (barring a few months prior to the elections) and has changed his party label in almost every successive Assembly election in the past 15 years, Ch autala demonstrated that his support base is intact. Although he could not whip up a wave as his father Devi Lal did in 1987, his party improved on the erstwhile Lok Dal's seat tally and vote share of 1996 in all the four divisions of Haryana.

As expected, the INLD made its biggest gains in the Jat heartland consisting of Rohtak and Hissar divisions, where its seat share increased by four and 11 respectively and its vote share went up by 9.9 and 11.5 percentage points respectively. It also man aged to win a majority of the seats that fall within Ambala division in the north and make a dent in Gurgaon division in the south, traditionally a Congress(I) stronghold. The INLD retained all but two of the 24 seats that the Lok Dal had won in 1996, an d almost singlehandedly wiped out the Haryana Vikas Party of Bansi Lal, taking 17 of its 33 seats. In all, 53 of the 90 seats changed hands.

The election doubtless marks Chautala's arrival as a leader in his own right, but it may be incorrect to attribute the INLD's victory entirely to him. The CSDS-NDTV survey found that his six- month-old regime enjoys a fair degree of popularity among the electorate, but not in so great a measure as to explain the INLD's victory. More than Chautala's popularity, it is the remembrance of Devi Lal's government that seems to have won support for the INLD. When the voters were asked to pick the best from amon g the regimes of the three Lals of Haryana, Devi Lal's government was the choice of 49 per cent of those polled. Of these, 63 per cent voted for the INLD.

ON the other hand, the INLD's alliance partner, the BJP, suffered a humiliating defeat, winning just six seats (of the 29 it contested) and 8.9 per cent of the popular vote. This meant a loss of five seats since 1996, although it contested four seats mor e than it did then as an alliance partner of the HVP. The BJP's average vote share in the seats it contested was 26.7 per cent, which was 17 percentage points less than that of the INLD.

The party's biggest losses were in southern Haryana. State BJP president Ram Vilas Sharma lost both the seats he contested. State BJP leaders have accused Chautala of sabotaging their party's chances, and there appears to be some truth in this charge. Ab out half a dozen INLD 'rebels' contested against the official BJP nominees, allegedly with Chautala's support. Some of them won, and a few others ensured the BJP's defeat. The CSDS-NDTV survey confirms that there was negligible transfer of votes from the INLD to the BJP. While 89 per cent of the potential INLD supporters voted for the INLD where that party's candidates represented the alliance, in constituencies where the alliance had put up a BJP candidate, only 22 per cent of the potential INLD suppor ters voted for the official candidate.

All this, however, offers at best a partial explanation for the result. Chautala's keenness to teach the BJP a lesson was a result of its insistence that it be allotted more seats than the ground realities warranted. When the CSDS-NDTV survey sought to p ersuade the INLD-BJP voters to choose between the two parties, more than three-fourths of those who made that choice opted for the INLD. Further, the BJP could secure the votes of only a low proportion of its own potential supporters. Perhaps the voters of Haryana have not forgotten that the BJP was a partner in the now-discredited HVP-led government. The BJP leadership evidently has much soul-searching to do, an exercise that its leaders seem reluctant to undertake.

FOR the other parties in the fray, it was largely a story of failures. The HVP, which fared well in 1996, has all but faded away, with its seats tally dropping from 33 to two. Except for some areas in and around Bhiwani, Bansi Lal's former stronghold, th e party appears headed for extinction. The Bahujan Samaj Party won one seat, but did not quite make the kind of breakthrough that the party was looking for. Two pockets, one around Ambala and the other around Rewari, offer it some hope, but much of its v ote in Rewari is not its own. Among the winners were 13 independents and others (the lone winner from the Republican Party of India is virtually an independent), but that number is not high by Haryana standards.

The Congress(I) was a big loser in this election, although it too can draw some consolation from the statistics of the results. Compared to 1996, when it finished fourth in the State, the Congress(I) has something to feel good about: it has more than dou bled its tally, benefited from a swing of over 10 percentage points in its favour and emerged as the principal Opposition party in the State. It has re-emerged as a key contender in Rohtak and Hissar divisions and recovered some of the ground it had lost in the southern parts of the State.

But the fact remains that an electorate disillusioned with the HVP-BJP regime opted for the INLD rather than the Congress(I). After Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Haryana is the third State in northern India where the Congress(I) has lost two successive Assemb ly elections. The party's decline can be traced to its inability to retain its traditional support base. Among the sample surveyed, of those who said that they had sometimes voted Congress(I) in the last decade, only 30 per cent did so this time. Even am ong those who had always voted Congress(I), only 61 per cent voted for it this time. That nearly half the independent MLAs are Congress(I) rebels speaks volumes about the party's choice of candidates. Faction feuds came out into the open at the time of c hoosing the Congress(I) Legislature Party leader.

THE CSDS-NDTV survey findings also facilitate an analysis of the social pattern of the vote. It shows that in Haryana, where caste sentiments traditionally run high, there is actually greater consolidation of votes of the "low castes" as compared to Biha r and Uttar Pradesh. The INLD secured 53 per cent of the Jat votes, and although this is a substantial chunk, it does not substantiate the widely held belief that the INLD is essentially a party of Jats. The consolidation of Jat votes in the INLD's favou r is far less than, say, the consolidation of Yadav votes in favour of the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar or the Samajwadi Party in U.P. The INLD won not merely on the strength of its support among Jats, but with the support of a cross-section of the elec torate. Predictably, it does not enjoy much support among the backward classes and Dalits. The BJP's support is largely among upper-caste voters, and principally in the urban areas.

The Congress(I) fares best among Dalits: 49 per cent of Dalits voted for it. It is also the most popular party among the backward classes, although its ability to consolidate the votes among these sections is less pronounced than in the past. The BSP's s ocial profile is similar to that of the Congress(I). Its support base is the strongest among Dalits (at 16 per cent), but it also picks up votes from Muslims and backward classes. Not too much should be read into the high number of Muslims voting INLD an d the low level of support for the Congress(I). Muslims in Haryana are clustered, and it is likely that the survey sample happened to pick a pocket of INLD voters. The figures may not be representative of how the community as a whole voted.

The supporters of the INLD and the BJP have different educational profiles. Whereas the INLD is the strongest among the uneducated and the weakest among graduates, the reverse is true for the BJP. Indeed, in this respect the BJP's profile has far more in common with that of the HVP.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, the class profile shows a very different picture. The main reason for this is that in Haryana the farming community is affluent but uneducated, and this section is largely voting INLD.

The Congress(I) and the BSP score best in the same sections and secure more votes among the poor than they do among the rich. If the Congress(I) wishes to improve its standing, it would perhaps benefit by entering into an alliance with the BSP and formin g a consolidated bloc among the poor and "lower caste" sections of society.