Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

A multi-cornered fight in Haryana

Haryana seems to be headed for a multi-party fight. In reality, most constituencies will see straight fights

Looking at the number of major political parties contesting the forthcoming assembly election in Haryana, one may believe that the state is headed for a triangular contest like Delhi or maybe even a four-cornered contest as in Uttar Pradesh. A closer look at the voting patterns in Haryana in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, however, reveals that multi polarity probably exists only at the aggregate level and most constituencies are likely to see straight contests between two parties.

The main reason for this is the regionally concentrated nature of the support base of the four major parties--the Congress, The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC). This makes the electoral contest interesting as all parties will find it hard to secure a clear majority. For crossing the halfway mark, these parties need a high strike rate in their pockets of influence and make inroads in the strongholds of other parties.

In the Lok Sabha election, BJP had performed well in alliance with the HJC. It managed to secure a vote share of more than 34% and led in 52 of the 72 assembly segments it contested in. These leads were concentrated mainly in North and South Haryana, which account for a little more than half of the seats in the state’s 90 member Vidhan Sabha (23 in north Haryana, 23 in south Haryana). The BJP led in 40 out of these 46 assembly segments. Despite the breakdown of its alliance with HJC and the latter’s tie up with former Congress legislator Venod Sharma’s Jan Chetna Party, BJP should be able to hold on to most of these leads as it had , on average, a large victory margin in these constituencies.

These constituencies include seven urban assembly seats out of the 10 urban assembly seats in Haryana. The BJP was leading in all these urban seats in the 2014 election. What remains to be seen is if the urban voter, who had supported the BJP due to the Modi factor, will back the party in the state election in the absence of a chief ministerial candidate. The relative weakness of the party in western and central Haryana means that it needs to replicate its Lok Sabha performance and sweep north and south Haryana in order to reach anywhere close to the majority mark.

The INLD did not perform well in the 2014 elections and bagged only 24.4% of the votes and won just two seats. Matters could surely be different for the party in the assembly election as national level factors can become relatively less important. The INLD’s fortunes in the state rest heavily on 18 seats in western Haryana as 10 out of its 16 assembly segment leads came from this region. The party’s vote share was more than 10 percentage points higher than its nearest HJC rivals who contested both parliamentary seats in the region.

The breakdown of HJC’s alliance with BJP could prove beneficial for INLD as most leads of HJC were narrow (average victory margin of only seven percentage points if one excludes Hissar where it was more than 40 percentage points). Fragmentation of HJC’s support base due to a shift of some voters to the BJP will directly help INLD. Further, INLD has managed to enter into an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal which could help it in gaining votes among Jat Sikhs.

In western Haryana districts of Sirsa and Hissar have a high concentration of Jats who constitute almost one-fifth of the state’s electorate. In the Lok Sabha election more than half of the Jats voted for INLD and in all likelihood the community will remain with the party. It is unlikely that INLD will be able to secure a majority on its own and the chances of its making gains beyond western Haryana appear to be limited. In southern Haryana, its support seems to be concentrated in the three seats of Mewat with a concentration of Muslims.

The real battleground in Haryana could be its largest region—central Haryana—where Congress still exercises some influence and has a realistic chance of winning some seats. In the Lok Sabha election, there was a close fight between BJP and Congress in the 26 assembly segments of this region. BJP had narrow lead of one percentage point in terms of vote share and both parties led in an equal number of segments.

The performance of the Congress here could be attributed to its dominance in Rohtak district. While there seems to be high anti-incumbency in other parts of the state, chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda continues to remain popular in Rohtak. Data from the National Election Study 2014, conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, show that close to 60% of the people in the Rohtak parliamentary constituency wanted the state government to get another chance, compared with an overall average of just 23%. Work done in the district has made Hooda popular but has also had negative repercussions for the party in other parts of the state. Even if the Congress manages to hold on to or even expand its presence in the central region, it might not be enough for compensating its likely losses in other parts of the state.

Sanjay Kumar and Pranav Gupta are, respectively, professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Developing (CSDS) Societies and a researcher with Lokniti, a research programme of CSDS

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