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Haryana was a slugfest, not the cakewalk BJP expected

The social engineering experiment initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he handpicked Khattar, a non-Jat leader, after winning the 2014 state elections, too, suffered a major jolt. Photo: PTIPremium
The social engineering experiment initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he handpicked Khattar, a non-Jat leader, after winning the 2014 state elections, too, suffered a major jolt. Photo: PTI

  • 5 months after the BJP swept the Jat-dominated state in the Lok Sabha elections, Haryana gives a hung verdict
  • The social engineering attempts of the BJP were challenged by the Congress in areas with high rural population, where, out of 59 seats, the Congress won 24 and the BJP 18

The Haryana assembly election results on Thursday came as a major setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the state heading for a hung assembly and the ruling party six seats short of the majority, winning just 40 seats.

However, the BJP led by chief minster Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana is set to come back to power with the help of Dushyant Chautala-led Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), which secured 10 seats.

In the run-up to the polls, the BJP was targeting 75 seats in the 90-member state assembly, riding on the highs of the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May, when it had won all the 10 parliamentary seats from the state. In the 2014 assembly elections the BJP had won 47 seats, up from a mere four in 2009.

The Congress gained the most from the BJP’s loss, doubling its 2014 assembly elections tally of 15 seats to secure 31 assembly constituencies.

Senior BJP leaders said the people have given a clear message that even though they support the BJP at the national level, they were ready to consider other options in the state.

The social engineering experiment initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he handpicked Khattar, a non-Jat leader, after winning the 2014 state elections, too, suffered a setback. BJP leaders admit that the election results showed it needs to improve its social engineering in the state. Modi had tried to win over and consolidate non-Jat voters of Haryana by making Khattar chief minister.

“The biggest problem for BJP in Haryana is that the social engineering failed. The politics of Jats versus non-Jats has its limitations, some of our prominent Jat leaders have lost the elections because of lack of support from Jat voters and anti-incumbency," said a senior BJP leader based in Chandigarh, requesting anonymity. The BJP’s strategy to focus on non-Jats and allow Jat voters to get divided among the Congress, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), and its breakaway faction, the JJP, along with BJP’s voter-base, did not work. The Jat community dominates at least 24 of the 90 assembly seats in Haryana, and can significantly influence election results in favour of a party to form the government.

Sensing that an anti-incumbency, the BJP’s central leadership campaigned on issues related to the abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, along with its decision to make instant triple talaq illegal.

Thursday’s results also have the potential to rework the political dynamics of the state with the JJP becoming a key regional force. Led by 31-year-old Chautala, the great grand son of the late deputy prime minister Devi Lal, it was JJP’s debut assembly contest. The final outcome in the formation of the new government will also depend on the independents, who won 7 seats.

The results could also have an impact on the Jat-non-Jat political narrative, which had been building in the state over the last five years since the appointment of Khattar. The failure of the BJP to get a clear verdict in its favour is also significant because the state has witnessed massive agitation by the Jat community demanding other backward class (OBC) status.

The social engineering attempts of the BJP were challenged by the Congress in areas with high rural population, where, out of 59 seats, the Congress won 24 and the BJP 18. Most of the gains for the Congress came in areas of Jhajjar, Jind and Rohtak districts which have a considerable population of Jats. However, the BJP has managed to counter this in Congress constituencies which have high urban populations. Out of the 31 such seats, the Congress only managed to win seven, whereas the BJP won 21.

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