The BJP has long remained on the fringes of Haryana’s political scene, tasting power only twice as a junior coalition partner, once with Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party, and later with Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal. However, its performance in the Lok Sabha elections, both at the national level and in Haryana, has completely altered the equations in the state and has set the stage for a triangular contest.
With the Congress facing anti-incumbency after a decade in power and a desperate INLD — supremo Chautala has been convicted in a teachers’ recruitment scandal and is serving a 10-year sentence — attempting to garner sympathy votes from its support base, the BJP’s decision to go it alone has made this one of the most keenly watched elections in recent times. It decided to dump its ally in the Lok Sabha elections, Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Party, which demanded a large share of seats as an alliance partner despite putting up a poor show in the elections.
Riding the Modi wave, the BJP won seven of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state. It had contested from eight seats, leaving two for the HJP (which lost both). The INLD bagged two, both from constituencies where the BJP did not contest, while a lone seat fell to the Congress. For the Congress, the result was a far cry from the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009, in which it won nine seats. The BJP is also buoyed by the fact that its candidates were ahead in 52 of the 79 assembly segments from where it had contested. BJP president Amit Shah recently made his intentions clear when he claimed that the party was aiming at a two-thirds majority in the state.
The party is once again banking on the Modi factor, as is clear from the fact that the BJP has not projected any leader as the chief ministerial candidate. This, perhaps, is also its biggest handicap. There was speculation that Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj may be projected as the face of the party in the state, but that has not happened. Shah has been crisscrossing the state and addressing rallies. Modi himself is scheduled to address nearly a dozen rallies. Though the party had roped in former Congress stalwart Birender Singh, who had staked claim to the post of chief minsiter and had been publicly criticising Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, it decided not to even field him in the elections.
The INLD launched its campaign well in advance of the BJP and the Congress. It was the first party to finalise all 90 candidates, and they are way ahead of rivals as far as campaigning is concerned. The party is attempting to portray the arrests of its top leaders as a “sacrifice” it had to make to provide employment to the youth of the state. Chautala asserts that he had to go to jail to create employment for 3,000 young people and that he shall provide employment to three lakh young people if his party wrests power. Considering the response at INLD rallies, this rhetoric seems to have been blindly accepted by supporters, mainly Jats and rural voters who constitute the biggest chunk of voters in the state. However, the party has limited support among other sections. It has also roped in the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), led by the Badals, who have fielded two candidates as part of the alliance. Ironically, the SAD is in coalition with the BJP in Punjab but will be contesting against it in Haryana. Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal has made it clear that his party aligned with Chautala’s due to “old family ties” and that it would not criticise the BJP, but take on the Congress in Haryana.
The ruling Congress is making a spectacle of itself with serious and open infighting. With half a dozen serious contenders for the top post, Hooda has had a tough time. Though the party has declared that the elections will be contested under his leadership, it has kept its post-elections options open in order to placate the other contenders. The party leadership appears to be banking on the division of votes among the three main contenders in the state. Congress leaders assert that the dismal results of the Lok Sabha elections are not necessarily reflective of voter mood in the assembly elections. The party, however, faces an uphill task, what with charges of nepotism, favouritism and scandals involving land acquisition and the change of land-use permissions levelled against it. Its decision to retain all sitting MLAs may not find favour with voters, either.
Though discredited, Gopal Kanda has floated a party and joined hands with Venod Sharma’s party and the Janata Dal (United). They are unlikely to make a significant impact except in their own constituencies. The BSP, too, has fielded candidates but is not a serious contender. The division of votes, especially in multi-cornered contests, will be an important in deciding the final outcome.
With no leader of stature in Haryana, the BJP is banking solely on the “Modi magic” to sail through. After a setback in the recent by-elections and a parting of ways with allies in both Maharashtra and Haryana, it remains to be seen how much hold Modi retains on voters in these two crucial assembly elections.
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