Haryana Assembly Election 2019: Where Did The BJP’s Poll Strategy Go Wrong?

The voters of Haryana have shown a complete rejection of ‘Modism‘ and the state BJP’s ’75-plus’ slogan in the recently held Assembly elections by keeping the party below the required pass-mark.  The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) could get only 40 seats in the 90-member house in a triangular fight with Congress (31 seats) and Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) who secured 10 seats.

Despite PM Narender Modi’s seven rallies in the state during the election campaign, a rather negative response was reflected in Sirsa, Rewari, Ellenabad, and other adjoining seats where Modi had addressed rallies. An over-enthused Modi’s mordant, spirited, warm-blooded, and fiery speeches could seemingly gather no moss.

However the central leaders and the state Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar left no stone unturned to win the game and  organised five rallies for BJP President Amit Shah, three rallies for the working National President J P Nadda, nine rallies for Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, one rally for Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, around 77 rallies for CM Manohar Lal Khattar. Actress Hema Malini was also roped in for nine Rallies and Sunny Deol for four rallies, in addition to seven rallies by Prime Minister Modi.

All these star campaigners highlighted and hurled issues of nationalism, the Balakot Airstrike and the abrogation of Article 370 to deviate the mood of Haryanvi voters from regional issues raised by the opposition. But all this seemed to be in vain. The BJP slipped downward by 22% vote share within six months of Lok Sabha polls.

In the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections, floating on the ‘Modi wave‘, the BJP won all the ten Lok Sabha seats in the state by a huge margin and with a vote share of 58%. But in the recent Assembly election, the BJP could get only secure 36 % votes in the state. Modi’s howling over Pakistan and just showing dreams to the farmers in Haryana of bringing water to their fields by stopping the river waters from flowing to Pakistan couldn’t stop the slippage of the BJP’s vote bank. The opposition seemingly deflated PM Modi’s river water claim by asking, “Who stopped PM Modi during his previous five-year tenure from 2014 to 2019, when the BJP was ruling both in the centre as well as in Haryana?”

Even as CM Manohar Lal Khattar spoke extensively of his government’s merit-based recruitment and transparent transfer policy in every rally, the voters of Haryana reflected their resentment through their mandate against the working of the Khattar-led government by giving a clean sweep to its ministers without considering their castes or region.

Out of ten ministers, eight lost their way in the Haryana assembly including the big guns claiming to be the next Chief Minister, namely Rambilas Sharma, Captain Abhimanyu, and OP Dhankhar. Even Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s media advisor Rajiv Jain could not succeed in publicising the positive side of the Khattar government. He is also attributed with failing to gain the faith of voters for his minister-wife Kavita Jain from Sonipat constituency, which also reflected dissatisfaction with his media management work.

However, the media in the present scenario has not reacted directly, but some murmurs saying Jain has been named the media administrator instead of media advisor has been doing the rounds. Other ministers who lost the election battle are Krishan Lal Panwar, Manish Grover, Krishan Kumar Bedi, and Karn Dev Kamboj.

Who Gained From BJP’s Loss In Voter Share?  

The main opposition party in the state, Congress, was a divided house with six chief ministerial candidates, who remained busy in competing with each other. Ashok Tanwar, the previous state party president, believed to have been the right-hand and faithful soldier of Rahul Gandhi seemingly let the party go into ‘sleep mode’ and the Congress had to face a bad tenure.

Just before the assembly elections, after handing the crown back to Sonia Gandhi from Rahul Gandhi, Haryana state leadership was also changed and responsibility was given to Rajya Sabha Member Kumari Selja and former Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda to revive the party. Despite limited time to achieve this, the duo managed to enhance the number of seats from 15 to 31.

As the focus was limited to Rohtak and surrounding districts, they could not plough the fields of Bhiwani, Hisar, Fatehabad, and Sirsa districts properly. Because of this, despite an increase in the number of seats won, the vote share of the Congress remained almost the same in the assembly elections (28.10%) as was during the Lok Sabha elections (28.42%). In the May 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress, with the same vote share, got a lead over BJP candidates in 11 state assembly constituencies, but now the number increased to 31 without changing the vote percentage.

Retention of the same vote share by the Congress and a slip in vote share percentage of the BJP raises the question, “Who gained from the BJP’s loss?” If we watch the performance of the newly raised Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) by Dushyant Chautala, a fourth-generation representative of late Chaudhary Devi Lal, we can see that this party, including some independents, have fetched a vote share of nearly 28 % in these assembly elections. So, it is now clear that JJP and some independents who rebelled against BJP got their major vote share from the BJP’s share, as JJP won 10 seats and independents 7 and others got 2 seats.

What Could Be The Reason Behind This Vote Transfer?

The Jat people, a dominant community hailing from Haryana, had always played a major role as king-makers in the state. It can be said that the BJP secured power in 2014, both in the Lok Sabha and State Assembly, due to the involvement of Jat leaders like Birender Singh, Dharamveer Singh, OP Dhankhar, Captain Abhimanyu, and Subhash Barala.

But, in the changed scenario since Jats have raised their voice for availing reservation under the OBC category, politicians like Raj Kumar Saini, the then-Member of Parliament representing BJP, started to divide the society into Jat and Non-Jat segments for their political gains.

It is said that they raised a parallel force of original OBC castes to combat against Jats to defuse their reservation claim and created an atmosphere of fear among the people that if the Jat community would find inclusion under the OBC category, they will snatch their whole share and they (people under the OBC category ) will be cornered into a limited sphere. This has been attributed as the reason behind the fiery stir in which 30 persons lost their lives and why a long-lasting division in society occurred. If the BJP felt it to be a ‘soothing’ situation, is that why they didn’t stop the BJP MP Raj Kumar Saini from his activities? Why did the BJP not take any action against him? Why he was not ousted from the BJP and why did party supreme commanders allow him to represent BJP in Lok Sabha for the whole five-year tenure ?

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar also supposedly instigated the Jat community by issuing statements which they felt to be defamatory. A claimant of ‘Haryana Ek-Haryanvi Ek’ policy, CM Khattar, while addressing a rally at Balana in favour of BJP candidate and Transport Minister Krishan Lal Panwar, had said, “BJP has ended the JJJ system (one J stands for Jila (district), second for Jaati (caste) and the third for Jhola (bag full of notes) of the previous governments. We have used another J to end the corrupt system by throwing the three Js into Johar (pond) and launched ‘Mission Merit’ to provide jobs to youth on the basis of merit.” This speech claiming to end one ‘J’ representing jati (caste) sent a message that the CM was claiming to end Jat Jati through the ‘J’ symbol .

Similarly, Khattar’s statement referring to the Chautalas and to Hooda without naming them directly,  that ‘A father-son duo is already behind bars and the second one will go there very soon’, also supposedly irritated the Jat people. Such type of statements during elections and wars always have negative effects, and that happened this time too, giving a jolt to the BJP.

To teach a remarkable lesson to the BJP, most of the Jat people voted in favour of JJP or the Hooda-led faction, or supported winning candidates or rebels from BJP, which decreased the vote percentage in favour of BJP and increased the vote share of JJP and Congress. But seeing the soft corner of some Jat voters in favour of Hooda, equivalent voters from other castes changed their sides from Congress and voted in favour of other parties of their liking, which kept the vote share of congress nearly the same.

Chief Minister Khattar, on the first day of November, held a meeting with the former ministers from the previous government to review the losses suffered by the BJP in the recently concluded Assembly polls. A discussion was held on the reasons behind the losses suffered by the party and the defeat of a majority of Ministers.

Media reports reveal that the defeated ministers reportedly discussed that consolidation of the Jat votes against the party and non-polarisation of the urban and non-Jat voters in favour of the saffron party was also behind the non-realisation of its “Mission 75 plus”.

Now, the BJP has formed the new government by joining its election-time opponent JJP who have a strong base among the Jat community. So, it will be a compulsion for the BJP to extend an affectionate hand towards the Jat community if it wants to continue in power. But, time will tell till what extent the alliance goes on. Politics is a game of many tricks and no one remains a permanent foe or friend.

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