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The Haryana leap

BJP success hinged crucially on winning over leaders from other parties.

The election results in Haryana are a great leap forward for the BJP. In a state where it was always a fringe player, confined to certain urban pockets, the party has won an outright majority for the first time, getting seats in all the regions — rural and urban, Jat and non-Jat.

BJP leaders have attributed the victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership and party president Amit Shah’s organisational skills. No doubt, they spotted an opportunity and turned it to their advantage. But take a look at their rivals.

There was the Congress, whose government, headed by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, had become unpopular because of its acts of omission and commission. In recent years, economic growth in Haryana, one of the most prosperous states, had slowed down. The party’s own leaders accused Hooda of bias towards his home district, Rohtak, be it in development activity or government recruitment. The government seemed unable to ensure the security of Dalits. Add to this the stink over the permissions for change of land use, and the alleged favours done to Robert Vadra.

Then there was the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the traditional rival of the Congress. Party president Om Prakash Chautala and his elder son, Ajay Chautala, have been convicted for fraud in the recruitment of teachers. Misusing his bail, which was granted for medical treatment, Chautala went campaigning, posing as a do-gooder who had been fixed in a conspiracy by evil rivals just because he gave jobs to 3,200 youths. Chautala promised freebies to all sections — Scootys for college girls, a loan waiver for farmers, cash doles for the jobless, houses for the poor and much else — before the court called his bluff and sent him back to jail.

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Against such rivals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally led the BJP campaign. He chose issues that people in Haryana have always talked about, but which political parties never raised, such as rule by dynasties, the shameful sex ratio and the rampant female foeticide. Modi also offered new solutions. For example, in a state where unemployment is rising, with shrinking land holdings and increasing urbanisation, he spoke of building skills, not of doling out jobs. Of course, he also attacked the “goondashahi” under Chautala, the corruption under both Chautala and the Congress, and offered the BJP as an alternative.

An important factor — overlooked in the euphoria — that contributed to the BJP’s victory was its success in expanding its social base by winning over influential leaders from other parties, a process that began before the Lok Sabha elections. Mostly, these leaders belonged to farming communities, in which the BJP has never had a following. Notable among them were former Congress Working Committee member Birender Singh, a known Jat leader, and Rao Inderjit Singh, now a minister in the Modi government who has a following in the Ahirwal belt of southern Haryana. Many of them are now MPs and MLAs.

The dynasties and their evils, which Modi attacked, are not alien to the BJP. It enjoyed power as a junior partner in the governments of Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and later his son, Chautala. It had also tied up with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) of Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi, and agreed that he would be chief minister if the alliance won the assembly election. After the HJC’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections (even Bishnoi lost his Hisar seat), however, the BJP dumped its ally and decided to contest the assembly election on its own. Only Modi, who is untainted by this past, could voice these issues effectively, not Ram Bilas Sharma, state BJP president, or any other Haryana BJP leader. It will be interesting to watch whom the BJP chooses as its chief minister now.

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After the Congress’s rout, the demand for Hooda’s head is expected to grow shriller. The irrigation minister, Ajay Singh, has already blamed him. State Congress president Ashok Tanwar, former Union minister Kumari Selja, and the minister for excise and taxation, Kiran Chaudhary, are expected to resist any move to make Hooda leader of the legislature party.

But it is Chautala, the political legatee of Devi Lal, who faces a far more serious crisis. Chautala and his elder son are disqualified from contesting elections. They also face trial in a case of disproportionate assets, and their party has lost the third consecutive assembly election.

Above all, the BJP’s victory points to the possibility of the emergence of a bipolar polity in which the INLD could be pushed to the margins.

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The Haryana results should also worry Parkash Singh Badal, Akali Dal patron and chief minister of Punjab, who heads another dynasty. His son, Sukhbir, is deputy chief minister and Akali Dal president, Sukhbir’s wife, Harsimrat Kaur, is a minister in the Modi government, her brother, Bikram Majithia, is revenue minister in the state, and Badal’s son-in-law, Adesh Partap Singh, is food and supply minister.

The BJP and the Akalis are NDA allies, and also partners in a coalition in the state. And yet, the Akali Dal chose to join hands with the INLD. More than 100 Akali leaders, including the Badal father-son duo, campaigned for the INLD. Badal tried to explain it away, saying he had family relations with Chautala. The BJP retaliated by deploying former cricketer and MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, who denounced the Badals as “back-stabbers”. Emboldened by its Haryana victory, the BJP is likely to become assertive. One section in the party is already arguing that it should dump the Akalis and prepare to contest the 2017 assembly election in Punjab on their own.

virender.kumar@expressindia.com

First published on: 20-10-2014 at 12:43:49 am
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