“Abki baar, sattar paar (this time, cross 70)” – this is the confident call of BJP which stormed a largely-Jat dominated political landscape of Haryana in 2014. On the other side is a scattered Opposition — a divided Congress, a beleaguered INLD battling family feuds and corruption cases, and regional outfits with almost similar sounding names, headed by former chief ministers’ descendants.
Caste, as always, remains the single biggest factor in the election. ET takes a look at the factors swinging the elections to the 90-seat assembly as Haryana votes on October 21.
BJP’s major gains in 2014 came from this region – spread from Chandigarh, Panchkula, Ambala, Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra, Karnal and Panipat. Behind the clear saffron wave was BJP’s unique social engineering experiment —give a voice to non-Jat Punjabi-speaking baniya community, which had long been politically insignificant.
Once again, BJP is unabashedly banking on upper caste and baniyakhatri votes. This positioning has been strengthened by projecting Manohar Lal Khattar as the unchallenged leader in the state. Khattar, 65, has asserted himself as a leader in the last five years. The former RSS pracharak has a clean image and his governance has been praised.
After some initial fumbling during the Jat quota agitation in 2016 and the Ram Rahim case, Khattar has managed to make a mark. BJP is playing the nationalism and development cards.
“We believe in keeping a low profile while doing high profile work. The achievements of the government at the Centre and in Haryana, the unparalleled popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an honest government in the state that has worked for development of all regions are the planks on which we are fighting this election,” Anil Jain, BJP general secretary in-charge of Haryana, told ET.
He said nationalism is a big issue as 10.6% of defence forces are constituted by people from the state. “Many of them have made the supreme sacrifice for the country in Kashmir.”
The challenge for BJP remains the 30% Dalit population. Haryana has 14 reserved seats, of which BJP won nine, ally SAD got one, while Congress got four. Khattar government’s action against Baba Ram Rahim Singh and other dera heads may cost BJP some Dalit votes, which have always been divided between Congress and BSP.
THE JAT BELT
‘Chhattis biradaris’ (36 communities) co-exist peacefully in Haryana, leaders have boasted. However, for long, Jats, who constitute 25% of the population, have dominated the politics. Hisar, Bhiwani, Mahendragarh, Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonipat, Jind and Kaithal form the heart of Haryana’s Jat belt.
The families of former chief ministers Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal, Bhupinder Hooda and Om Prakash Chautala have controlled the politics of Haryana by winning a chunk of the seats spread across these districts.
In 2014, Congress was restricted to its family bastions of Rohtak, Sonepat and Jhajjar winning 15 seats. Chautala’s INLD registered better success by winning in pockets of Sirsa, Fatehabad, Bhiwani and Mewat belt. The chasm between Jats and non-Jats has become more pronounced since the Jat reservation agitation in February 2016.
However, parties seem well aware that they would need to step out of their family bastions in Jat belt to woo non-Jat voters. With the shocking rout in the recent LS election, it is almost a game of retaining political relevance for Hoodas and other prominent Jat families.
While Congress and INLD are trying to focus on local governance issues, BJP is banking on Khattar’s clean record and PM Narendra Modi’s charisma. Employment is one of the major talking points. BJP has claimed that jobs and educational institutions were earlier cornered by two districts of Rohtak and Sonepat—family boroughs of Hoodas.
Now, according to BJP, the Khattar government has evenly distributed these across districts and opened thousands of government jobs after decades. This has further underlined the divide between Jats and non-Jats.
The region has urban developed districts of Gurguram and Faridabad on one end and rural backward Mewat on the other. South Haryana has been BJP’s Achilles heel since 2014. Even when the party rode to power in the state, it was south Haryana where it could win only the Sohna seat.
However, the party is now eyeing the considerable Meo Muslim community. Apart from taking its triple talaq decision to the people, the party has made tactical moves to win over Muslim MLAs and independents. Sitting INLD MLAs from Nuh, Zakir Hussain, and Firozepur Jhirka’s Naseem Ahmed have joined BJP and have been given tickets.
Over the last five years, the Modi government has worked extensively in Mewat region, which was at the bottom of the list of aspirational districts identified by Niti Aayog. Ministers were assigned to oversee implementation of social welfare schemes and improve health and economic parameters of the region. This focussed approach is likely to pay dividends in the forthcoming elections.