Haryana politics has undergone a radical transformation over the past decade, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been central to this. From being a marginal player ten years ago, the BJP has become the dominant party in Haryana today.

The BJP’s ability to expand its social coalition and a heavily divided opposition helped the party in sweeping the Lok Sabha elections in the state earlier this year, and could play a key role in the assembly elections to be held on 21 October. An analysis of election results and post poll surveys conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggests that the BJP remains on a strong footing in the state.

For many years, the BJP had played the role of a junior partner to the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), and earlier to the Haryana Vikas Party in the state. Contesting on its own, the party had won only four seats in the 2009 assembly elections in the state. But buoyed by its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and riding on Prime Minister Modi’s popularity, the BJP secured a majority on its own in the 2014 assembly elections. Its vote share in the Haryana assembly elections had almost quadrupled from 9.1% in 2009 to 33.2% in 2014.

Arguably the biggest change in state politics since 2014 has been the collapse of the INLD. In 2014, the INLD had stood second overall and received almost one-fourth of the votes. A few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Dushyant Chautala was expelled from the INLD following a bitter tussle with uncle Abhay Chautala. The young leader launched the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) which managed to get 4.9% votes in its very first election. The INLD fared worse and could gather merely 1.9% votes. The largest benefactor of the INLD split seems to be the BJP. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the party’s vote share increased by more than 24 percentage points compared to the previous Lok Sabha elections and it received a staggering 58% of the votes.

In nine out of the ten Lok Sabha seats, the BJP received more than half of the votes. Despite the merger of Kuldeep Bishnoi’s Haryana Janhit Congress, the Congress’s gains were modest as its vote share increased only 5.5 percentage points between 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections to 28.4%. The last few months have been marked by heavy infighting within the Congress and the party leadership struggled to convince senior leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda against quitting the party. Its attempts to placate Hooda has however upset its former state unit chief, who wrote a scathing resignation letter hitting out at the party’s decision last week. In such a scenario, overcoming a gap of close to 30 percentage points would be an uphill task for the Congress.

The BJP’s 2014 victory in Haryana was attributed to a massive consolidation of non-Jat voters in favour of the party. A significant lead among non-Jat upper castes and among OBCs, accompanied by a split of Dalit votes had helped the party in the last assembly election. In the 2014 assembly election, more than four out of ten Jat voters (42%) had supported the INLD and the BJP had stood third among the community. In the Jat-dominated western Haryana, the BJP had won merely 7 out of the 26 seats and trailed the INLD. The massive violence in the state after protests by Jats for Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota in 2016 had sharpened the divide between Jats and other communities in the state. The 2019 election showed signs of weakening of the Jat – non Jat binary, at least in the electoral sphere. Seeking an alternative to the INLD, the community sided with the BJP in the Lok Sabha election. More than half of Jat voters (52%) in the state voted for the party earlier this year. It remains to be seen if this shift towards the party was stable or transient (driven by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal and national level factors).

State assembly elections held immediately after the Lok Sabha elections generally favour the winner in the national elections. This inherent advantage, the salience of nationalism as an electoral issue in the state and favourable sentiment around the state government explain why BJP appears to be the frontrunner in the upcoming elections on October 21. While the economic slowdown and rising food prices have given salient issues to the opposition to take on the ruling party, it remains to be seen if they would be enough to halt the BJP’s juggernaut in Haryana.

Pranav Gupta is a PhD student in political science at the University of California, Berkeley.

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