OPPOSITION DISUNITY & NEW SOCIAL ALLIANCES
By Sagarneel Sinha
Haryana, which goes to poll on October 21 along with Maharashtra, is witnessing a gradual shift with formations of new social alliances replacing the old existing ones. When in 2014, BJP formed the government for the first time in the state on its own, the party made Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi (non-Jat), the chief minister of the state — where Jats, an agricultural community accounting for 27 per cent of the state’s population, have been dominating in politics for decades. This was done to build a new social alliance in the state by combining the other non-Jat social groups. It ultimately paid rich dividends to the BJP when the party won all the seats in the Lok Sabha elections held this year.
In the Lok Sabha elections, as the Lokniti-CSDS survey puts out, BJP got more than 70 per cent of the vote share from both the non-Jat upper castes and OBC groups. Not only this compared to 2014 general polls, this time BJP was able to pull around 50 per cent votes from the Jats. The most significant achievement of BJP’s program to reach the marginal groups can be judged from the figures of Lokniti-CSDS which says that the party got 58 per cent of the support from Dalits. This is interesting given the fact that the BJP, which was once known as the party of the upper castes — Brahmins, Baniyas and Rajputs, has been successful to reach out the Dalits, who account for 20 per cent of the population, at a time when Mayawati’s BSP is almost losing the presence it once had in the state.
Although, there is a difference between a state and Lok Sabha election — as local issues take centre stage in the state polls. However, if one sees the election campaign of the BJP, it seems that the party is using the card of strong nationalism to nullify the effects of anti-incumbency as much as possible. The party leadership including Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking about revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir — and also attacking Pakistan from the election rallies. So, it is very difficult to differentiate the state elections from that of the Lok Sabha polls — if one looks through the prism of BJP’s campaign.
This is BJP’s shrewd campaign strategy to pull maximum votes to fulfill the target of 75 seats, by hook or by crook, that the party has set — out of the 90 seats in the state assembly. Nevertheless, what has come handy for the saffron party is the complete chaos in the opposition camp— Congress, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Jananayak Janata Party (JJP) and other smaller parties like BSP and Lok Samata Party (LSP). What has come worst for the grand old party is the internal rebellion that the party faced just ahead of the polls — which no doubt will have a negative effect on the image of the already demoralised Congress party. Party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi appointed Selja Kumari, a Dalit, the president of the state by removing Ashok Tanwar, also a Dalit and a team member of Rahul Gandhi. Plus, Sonia gave the former chief minister Bhupinder Hooda, belonging to the Jat community, the post of the chief of the Congress Legislature party and the party’s campaign committee — just falling short of declaring him as the party’s electoral face. All these developments didn’t go well with Ashok Tanwar, who protested before the AICC headquarters and has resigned from the party pledging support to Dushwant Chautala’s JJP.
This state elections will be different from other — not only because of BJP’s dominance under Khattar but also due to the decimation of INLD, the state’s major regional party — which has dominated the politics for the last two decades. The regional party led by former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has been hurt by the internal family fighting with his grandson Dushwant Chautala forming the JJP. This year in the Lok Sabha polls, INLD, known as the party of Jats, was able to secure only a meagre of 1.89 per cent votes — even less than that of BSP. Although the leaders of INLD, which is contesting 83 seats and has alloted 3 seats to NDA constituent Shiromani Akali Dal, claim that Lok Sabha polls were different. However, INLD’s drubbings doesn’t seem to be an aberration — with most of its leaders joining either the breakaway faction JJP or the BJP or a minority flocking towards the Congress. Even before the votes being cast, the regional party seems to be losing the place it once held in the state for decades with its vote share, mainly Jats, almost going to the JJP.
Although JJP is a new player, it may end up as a vote cutter — mainly splitting the anti-BJP Jat votes between it and the Congress, ultimately benefiting the BJP, which has already successfully created a broad social alliance comprising OBCs, Dalits and non-Jat upper castes (Brahmin, Baniyas and Rajputs). Given the competition among Congress, JJP and at some extent INLD for the same Jat vote bank, BJP is also trying to gain foothold in the Jat dominated areas by banking on strong nationalism. Although it will be interesting to see how many seats JJP would be able to win.
Apart from the caste arithmetic, in Haryana there is always a Lal factor. This time too is not different where many Lals — Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and Devi Lal — always have been influencing Haryana’s politics. However, in 2019 there is an additional Lal — incumbent chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has managed to emerge as a strong leader despite being a non Jat in the Jat dominated politics of Haryana. He is also hailed by many for his clean image plus his non-partisan approach to run the state administration effectively, barring some hiccups like the violent Jat agitation of 2016. Lastly, it can be assumed that the new social arithmetics aided by Khattar’s clean image plus the chaos in the divided opposition, gives the incumbent BJP, which is also banking on strong nationalism, a clear edge in the state. However, whether the BJP would be able to reach the target of 75 seats, when the opposition seems to have already accepted its defeat, is something that will be keenly watched. (IPA Service)