Significant win

Print edition : November 14, 2014

Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister-elect of Haryana, during a victory procession along with his supporters in Karnal on October 19. Photo: AKHILESH KUMAR

Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the outgoing Congress Chief Minister, addressing a press conference at his residence in New Delhi on October 19. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The BJP wins a majority in Haryana for the first time on its own and elects Manohar Lal Khattar as the first non-Jat Chief Minister in 18 years.

FOR the first time since the formation of Haryana in 1966, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as an independent political entity to form the government on its own in the State. Manohar Lal Khattar, a former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak and a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has become the first non-Jat Chief Minister of the State in 18 years. Khattar was elected from Karnal with a comfortable margin of over 63,000 votes. Pollsters had predicted that the BJP would either emerge as the single largest party or head a coalition government in the eventuality of a hung verdict.

The scions and extended family of Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal, the three important leaders who had ruled the State since 1966 in turns, will now sit in the opposition. The victory for the BJP and the fact that it has managed to form the government on its own without the support of its traditional ally, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), is a significant political development for the saffron party in northern India. What is less spectacular is that the BJP got just one seat more than the cut-off figure required for a simple majority. It won 47 of the 90 Assembly seats to which elections were held on October 15. This is surprising as in the April/May Lok Sabha elections, the party won seven of the eight seats it contested and was ahead in 51 of the 72 Assembly segments.

Despite the decline in the fortunes of the INLD and the Congress, the voters in effect did not give the BJP a decisive majority as in the Rajasthan Assembly elections in December 2013. The Haryana elections were, in a sense, a litmus test of Modi’s popularity. The voter turnout at 76.54 per cent was slightly higher than the 72.29 per cent in 2009. There was a slight increase in the percentage of young voters.

It was a foregone conclusion that the Congress would not form the government for a third consecutive term. The Congress got a severe drubbing, with its tally falling from 40 in 2009 to 15. Its vote share also tumbled down to 20.6 per cent from 35.08 per cent last time. But this was nothing compared with the plummeting fortunes of the INLD, which was expected to benefit the most from the anti-incumbency sentiment that prevailed against the Congress.

The INLD, with the backing of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), was seen as a serious contender for the top slot. As the principal political adversary of the Congress, the party was expected to surpass its 2009 tally of 31, but it won 19 seats, just four more than the Congress. The vote share of the INLD came down from 25.29 per cent in 2009 to 24.1 per cent. The INLD, however, managed to retain control over all the segments in the Sirsa belt, from where its leader Om Prakash Chautala hails.

This was surprising in the light of the open support extended by the Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda to the BJP. “The Dera is never known to openly declare support to any party though. This time, however, its leader, unfurled the BJP flag at a public meeting,” said a political observer. The non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation wields significant control over non-Jats, mainly the Scheduled Caste (S.C.) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) segments, and its leader, who has cases including that of murder registered against him, was known to “bless” the Congress in every election. It was primarily the division of the S.C. and OBC votes between the BJP and the Congress in the Sirsa region that benefited the INLD.

Of the total electorate, S.C. voters comprise anywhere between 19 and 20 per cent and OBC voters around 27 per cent. The Backward Castes constitute around 5 per cent. The Dera has a presence all over the State, especially in western and northern Haryana.

Division of Jat vote

Elsewhere, a section of the S.C. vote went to the Congress while the bulk of the Jat vote was divided between the Congress and the INLD. This division of the Jat vote and the significant shift of the non-Jat vote from the Congress as a whole, and the Dera’s “blessings” enabled the BJP to stay ahead in the race. The Dera’s call made an impact where the margins were narrow, said Ranbir Singh, former Dean of Social Sciences, Kurukshetra University.

“The BJP’s success can be attributed to the following factors. There has normally been a tendency in Assembly elections in Haryana to vote for the party that is in power at the Centre. The Modi factor played a role but the primarily it was a vote for change. Since 1996, the State has seen Jat dominance,” he told Frontline.

Bhajan Lal was the last non-Jat Chief Minister of the State. He was succeeded by Bansi Lal (1996-1999) of the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), Om Prakash Chautala (1999-2005) of the INLD, and Bhupinder Singh Hooda (2005-09 and 2009-14) of the Congress. The BJP played up the Jat domination and effectively polarised the non-Jat votes to its benefit. Modi, who campaigned hard in rural Haryana, appealed to the khaps, thereby adding to the urban support the party already enjoyed to an extent. The margins in most of the urban seats were wide. Interestingly, the khap leaders who contested the elections were defeated, with one of them even losing his deposit. Although the BJP fielded 27 Jat candidates, only one-third of them got elected.

But the BJP’s vote share grew substantively from 9.05 per cent in 2009 to 33.2 per cent this time. (The BJP polled 34.7 per cent of the votes in the Lok Sabha elections in the State.) Even in the best of times, the BJP never managed to get more than 20 per cent of the vote share. “But the new government with a non-Jat as Chief Minister will have to balance interests as the conflicts between Jats and non-Jats might go up,” said a political analyst.

The BJP made significant gains in southern Haryana primarily because of Rao Inderjit Singh, its Member of Parliament from Gurgaon. Inderjit Singh, who quit the Congress to join the BJP a few months before the Lok Sabha elections, managed to secure considerable wins in the Ahirwal belt comprising Mahendargarh, Gurgaon and Rewari districts. The BJP won all the seven seats in the Ahirwal belt.

Outgoing Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda retained his Garhi Sampla-Kiloi seat, while the Congress as a party made some gains in the old Rohtak area comprising Jhajjar and Sonepat, also called the Deswali Jat heartland. The Congress won conclusively in the Rohtak region. The opposition had accused Hooda of selectively focussing on this region. The Jats in this region appeared to have backed Hooda.

The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), which was expected to win some seats in the Hisar belt by cashing in on the non-Jat vote, had to be content with two seats, four fewer than its 2009 tally. The two seats, Adampur and Hansi, were won by party chief Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi and his wife, Renuka. The BSP’s fortunes shrank considerably. It won the lone seat of Jagadhiri in Faridabad district with a Brahmin as its candidate. The BSP’s vote share came down from 6.73 per cent in 2009 to 5 per cent in 2014.

Ultimately, it appears to have been a three-way contest. The smaller breakaway parties did not make any gains but dented the prospects of the Congress as most of them were Congress dissidents. The most prominent Congress rebel was, of course, Inderjit Singh.

Interestingly, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s sister, Vandana Sharma, lost to a prominent Congress dissident in Safidon. The Modi “wave”, it appears, was felt selectively.

Critics of Hooda attacked him for the wrong selection of candidates and for the rise of cronyism, with one of them, former Union Minister Kumari Selja, blaming him for the party’s defeat. Prominent losers included Congress rebel and Jan Chetna Party leader Venod Sharma (Ambala City), former Home Minister Gopal Kanda of the Haryana Lokhit Party (Sirsa), Savitri Jindal (Hisar), mother of former Congress MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal, Captain Ajay Yadav (Rewari) of the Congress, Dushyant Chautala (Devi Lal’s great grandson), Chander Mohan (Bhajan Lal’s son) and R.S. Mahindra, Bansi Lal’s son. (Savitri Jindal was elected in 2005 and 2009 and was a Minister in the Hooda Cabinet. Naveen Jindal was defeated in the Lok Sabha election from Kurukshetra.)

Prominent winners included BJP spokesperson Captain Abhimanyu and State BJP president Ram Bilas Sharma; Abhay Chautala and Naina Singh, Chautala’s son and daughter-in-law, from the INLD; Kiran Choudhary, Bansi Lal’s daughter-in-law and a Minister in the outgoing Hooda Cabinet, from Tosham; and Randeep Surjewala from Kaithal.

“The challenges before the government are many. Firstly, it has to have a transparent system of recruitment. Second, a number of educational institutions were opened but the quality of education is poor,” said Ranbir Singh. It has also been pointed out that the Jat-non-Jat polarisation might cost the BJP dear as conflicts between the two could increase if excessive patronage is given to one section. Regional imbalances, employment and minimum support prices are also serious issues that need attention.

The BJP did not name its chief ministerial candidate for the elections. This perhaps worked to its advantage but did not deter elected leaders, including those accommodated from the Congress who helped the party increase its tally, from staking a claim. They may prove to be uncomfortable allies in the coming months. Political analysts have cautioned that the BJP must be more “accommodative”, especially because there are lessons to be learnt in the simple majority given to it despite a high-octane campaign.