Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuous emphasis on governance has enabled him to reach out to all social segments with a neutral caste image, giving him an edge over most regional leaders who are largely backed by specific castes. Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuous emphasis on governance has enabled him to reach out to all social segments with a neutral caste image, giving him an edge over most regional leaders who are largely backed by specific castes. Photo: PTI

Haryana verdict may guide BJP’s future course

The party hasn't only managed to break traditionally established social barriers but also redefined state elections by contesting them solely on shoulders of Narendra Modi

The spectacular performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Haryana assembly elections may change the dynamics of how state elections are fought in the future. The party has not only managed to break traditionally established social barriers but also redefined the leadership aspect in state elections by contesting an assembly election solely on the shoulders of Narendra Modi. Let us look at the finer points of the Haryana verdict and its impact on the future politics of the BJP.

1.Building a social coalition defying traditional limitations

The BJP continues to expand its social base which was once limited to Sawarns (a so-called forward caste) and some Other Backward Classes in specific pockets. The party managed to reach out to large sections of OBCs and Dalits in the Lok Sabha elections across the entire Hindi heartland (most central, western, and north Indian states). The result of the Haryana assembly elections indicates the same trend—it has not only retained its traditional vote base among the Sawarns but also made significant gains among Jats, OBCs and Dalits. This kind of expansion of the social base of the BJP should be a wake-up call for caste-based parties and regional leaders who have thrived on Mandal politics in the Hindi heartland since the 1990s. The Mandal Commission recommended, in 1979, that OBCs be given almost half of certain kinds of government jobs; in 1990, the V.P. Singh-led Janata Dal government implemented the report, effectively polarizing India along class lines.

The BJP’s spectacular performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Haryana diluted the traditional Jat-non-Jat caste matrix of state politics (the Jats are a powerful agricultural community). The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance did lose three Jat-dominated constituencies (Rohtak, Hisar and Sirsa) but this was not on account of lesser support form Jats. The Congress won Rohtak because of the personal image of the Hooda family (Bhupinder Singh Hooda was Haryana’s chief minister till Sunday), who had cultivated this area over a period of time. Kuldeep Bishnoi of Haryana Janhit Congress-BL lost the Hisar Lok Sabha seat despite leading in six of the nine assembly segments because the very concentrated support base of the Chautalas of the Indian National Lok Dal in three assembly segments. Similarly, INLD’s win in Sirsa was due to its strong candidate and pockets of personal dominance of the Chautala family.

Seen in that context, the assembly election results indicate that the BJP has managed to make significant inroads in the 27 assembly segments falling in these three Lok Sabha constituencies by winning eight seats. Indeed, INLD’s Dushyant Chautala lost from the Uchana Kalan assembly segment. The BJP has also made significant inroads in seven Jat-dominated districts accounting for 36 seats. Thus, the BJP still managed to draw significant support from Jats.

BJP has won all eight seats in the Yadav-dominated Gurgaon and Mahendragarh districts and three of six seats in Gujjar-dominated Faridabad, indicating saffron dominance among non-Jat OBCs. Results confirm that the BJP continued its good performance in Brahmin, Punjabi and Bania dominated seats, indicating good support from Sawarns. The BJP also won nine out of 17 seats reserved for Dalits.

Interestingly, the BJP’s appeal to these caste and class groups has nothing to do with caste and class.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuous emphasis on governance has enabled him to reach out to all social segments with a neutral caste image, giving him an edge over most regional leaders who are largely backed by specific castes. These regional leaders may still be able to secure the support of a caste, the Jats for the INLD, for instance, but this alienates other numerically strong social segments.

The BJP went into Haryana with a purely governance agenda but party president Amit Shah silently undertook smart social engineering at the micro-constituency level by accommodating a large number of Jats and other OBC candidates, a departure from the pure non-Jat strategy of the BJP in the past. Thus, the duo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah perfectly played their part by pushing for a governance agenda at the macro level and smart social engineering at the micro level, respectively.

2. Dominance of the central leadership

The BJP has, in the past depended on state leadership to do well in assembly elections. Even in the early 1990s when Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were at their zenith, the saffron party was led by Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Sunderlal Patwa in Madhya Pradesh, Keshubhai Patel in Gujarat, and Gopinath Munde and Pramod Mahajan in Maharashtra. Therefore, the BJP’s decision to not project state leadership in the assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra was not only a significant departure from the past but also its confidence in the appeal of Modi. The win in Haryana is more significant because unlike Maharashtra where the BJP has produced strong leaders such as Mahajan and Munde, it doesn’t have a single state leader of stature in Haryana. Therefore, the credit for the historical win in Haryana totally goes to Modi. The Haryana verdict will significantly influence the BJP’s central leadership’s approach towards projecting leaders in state elections.

3.The end of agriculture

In the past, several leaders, including many at the national level, have projected themselves as leaders of farmers—to name a few: Chaudhary Charan Singh, Ajit Singh, Mulayam Singh, Karpoori Thakur, Devi Lal, and Om Prakash Chautala. These leaders may have influenced farming communities till the late 2000s but they seem to have lost touch with the changing aspirations of farmers. The BJP under the leadership of Modi has managed to address the aspirations of the so-called rurban population, particularly young people whose dreams are no longer linked to agriculture. The poor performance of the INLD in Haryana once again confirms that the nature of politics in this country has changed and rural India’s farming community now expects a lot more than what old-generation farmer leaders are offering.

4. Death of dynasty

The political map of India is dotted by several dynasties across states with the Gandhi dynasty being the most prominent. Haryana presents a distinct case because of the presence of more than one of these dynasties. In this assembly election too, these three first families of Haryana were out to prove their mettle on different grounds. The Hooda family harped on 10 years good governance while the Chautala and Bhajan Lal families fielded three members each to claim the Jat and non-Jat legacy. The BJP meanwhile, campaigned against dynastic politics by denying tickets to sons and daughters of some of its MPs.

To conclude, Haryana may be a small state but it has delivered a result which may strongly impact the future course of Indian politics, and particularly that of the BJP. The result will also alarm Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar who supported the INLD and were hoping to learn few lessons from Haryana on how to take on the rampant BJP.

The author is a psephologist and director of Research and Development Initiative.

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