Stranded at 40 seats, six short of an absolute majority, the BJP Thursday scrambled to secure a second consecutive innings at the helm in Haryana. It sought the support of six party rebels and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala’s estranged brother Ranjit Chautala, all of whom won as Independents — and Haryana Lokhit Party’s Gopal Kanda.
BJP sources told The Indian Express that the oath-taking ceremony is likely to be held Friday evening. “As soon as the BJP once again forms the government in Haryana, public work will speed up through an honest and accountable government in the state,” Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.
The late-night developments were prompted by the setback received by the BJP when the Assembly poll results came in earlier in the day: A resurgent Congress led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda claimed 31 seats and the newly formed Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) of Dushyant Chautala won 10.
Both the Jat leaders severely dented the BJP’s poll call of “Abki baar 75 paar (Over 75 seats this time)” — the ruling party had gone to polls with 48 MLAs after winning the Jind bypoll in January.
More embarrassing for the party was that barring Khattar and Health Minister Anil Vij, all their five Cabinet colleagues, their party’s state unit chief and a minister of state, lost badly to either Congress or JJP candidates.
The Congress claimed more than double its tally of 15 in 2014, and the JJP opened its account by reaching double digits. The results came just five months after Haryana voted for the BJP in all the 10 Lok Sabha seats with huge margins.
Full list of winners constituency wise
As the results became clear, it was initially expected that Dushyant Chautala, the son of Ajay Chautala and grandson of Om Prakash Chautala, would play the kingmaker in deciding the next government. But the BJP decided to go with the seven Independents and Gopal Kanda.
However, the inclusion of Kanda — he took a chartered flight with Ranjit Chautala to New Delhi Thursday evening to meet the BJP leadership — is bound to raise eyebrows.
In August 2012, while serving as Home Minister in the then Congress-led state government under Hooda, Kanda was arrested after a former air hostess with MDLR airlines, which he owned, committed suicide after accusing him of harassment. In February 2013, the air hostess’s mother, too, committed suicide.
In March 2014, the Delhi High Court dropped charges of sexual exploitation against Kanda and released him on bail. But he continues to face trial on other charges, apart from a number of other cases including for illegally developing a property in Sirsa.
In May 2014, Kanda and his brother Govind Kanda started HLP and contested the 2014 state polls from Sirsa, but without success. This time, Kanda won the Sirsa seat by a mere 602 votes. Incidentally, Govind Kanda lost to Ranjit Chautala, who was denied a Congress ticket and contested as an Independent, by 19,431 votes in Rania.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Govind Kanda said: “The BJP sent an aircraft, and my brother and Ranjit Chautala have flown to New Delhi to meet Amit Shah. We are supporting BJP, it’s a homecoming for us. Our late father Murli Dhar had joined RSS in 1926 and contested on an RSS-backed poll symbol from Sirsa in 1952.”
Govind Kanda claimed that they had sought a pre-poll tie-up with the BJP and asked for two seats, which was denied. “Any decision of merging HLP with the BJP will be taken later,” he said.
The six BJP rebels who won as independents were Nayan Pal Rawat from Prithla, Randhir Singh Gollan from Pundri, Rakesh Daultabad from Badshahpur, Sombir Sangwan from Dadri, Balraj Kundu from Meham and Dharampal Gonder from Nilokheri.
Thursday’s result, however, was a severe indictment of the BJP’s poll strategy.
Significantly, its “nationalism” pitch did not resonate at the ground level. While the BJP focussed on the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K and the Balakot air strikes, more than its governance, Congress and JJP highlighted core state-specific issues.
The caste factor appeared to have played a role, too, with at least 13 Jat candidates winning across the state. In two Jat-dominated districts of Rohtak and Sonipat, which cover 10 segments, the Congress won seven seats, while the BJP managed only three.
Among the BJP Jat leaders who lost was Finance Minister Capt Abhimanyu who was defeated by JJP’s Ram Kumar Gautam. The other big losses for the party were: Education Minister Rambilas Sharma, Agriculture Minister Om Prakash Dhankar, Women and Child Development Minister Kavita Jain, Transport Minister Krishan Panwar and Minister of State Krishan Kumar Bedi.
The party’s choice of candidates also backfired. Replacing 12 of its sitting MLAs and depending on deserters from other parties failed to work —- 11 had switched over from INLD (seven lost, four won), and two from Congress (both won).
Besides, its move to pitch top sportspersons in Opposition strongholds flopped. Olympian wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Babita Phogat lost from the Jat-dominated areas of Baroda and Dadri, respectively — Phogat ended third. The lone bright spot was the victory of former hockey captain Sandeep Singh in Pehowa, a Punjabi Sikh-dominated constituency.
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