Chandigarh: In Haryana, the BJP is once again testing its bold political experiment in the state — of fielding non-Jat candidates in Jat majority areas and non-Brahmin candidates in Brahmin-dominated areas.
The BJP’s unique social engineering experiment yielded positive results in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party won seven of the 10 seats.
Among its victories was a surprise win in the Jat-dominated Sonipat seat, where it had fielded Ramesh Chander Kaushik, a Brahmin.
Then it managed to break the traditional Brahmin stranglehold over the Karnal seat where it had fielded Ashwini Kumar Chopra, a Punjabi. The strategy helped the BJP win the Jind bypoll in January this year. The party had fielded Krishan Midha, a Punjabi.
The strategy is being repeated in these elections. The party has retained Kaushik for Sonipat, has fielded Sanjay Bhatia, a non-Brahmin Punjabi, in Karnal and in a thorough break from tradition, has fielded Arvind Sharma, a Brahmin, from the Rohtak Lok Sabha constituency, a pocketborough of the Hoodas.
Sharma, a two-time Congress MP from Brahmin-dominated Karnal, joined the BJP recently.
Haryana votes in the sixth phase on 12 May.
Sonipat: Haryana’s hottest contest
All eyes are on Sonipat this time as the constituency is set to witness an electoral thriller for three reasons.
The Congress has fielded two-time chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, its most prominent Jat leader, against sitting BJP MP Kaushik. For Hooda, this is a high-stakes election as his political career depends on winning this seat.
Hooda is vying to be declared as a CM candidate in the assembly elections later this year but the party has asked him to first prove his mettle in the Lok Sabha polls. “The route to Chandigarh is now via Delhi,” he has been telling voters.
The second reason is that Kaushik winning the seat in 2014 was the exception to a well-known rule — that Sonipat is a Jat seat. Dividing the Jat vs non-Jat vote had worked for the BJP then and now the divide is even sharper because of the violent 2016 Jat reservation agitation.
The Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government virtually collapsed when Jat protesters indulged in looting and arson while the police and army remained mute spectators.
Khattar bent over backwards to keep the Jats on his side, ordering the withdrawal of the FIRs lodged against the protesters. But the Jats continue to be upset with the ruling regime for not doing enough to forward their case for reservation.
On the other hand, non-Jats, especially Punjabis who lost businesses in the violence on GT road, feel that the time has come to show resentment against the Jats.
And third, Kaushik is facing severe anti-incumbency.
“We like Modi but BJP MP has not done any work at all. He did not bother to visit our villages,” said a member of the Karor village panchayat in Murthal. “The last time he came to seek votes he was very arrogant and told us that whether we vote for him or not he is going to win.”
Khattar’s neck on the block too
What Sonipat is to Hooda, Karnal is to Khattar. The constituency is Khattar’s home seat — he is the MLA from the Karnal assembly constituency, one of the nine in the Lok Sabha segment.
Karnal is a traditional Brahmin seat but the BJP’s strategy of fielding a non-Brahmin Punjabi from the seat worked in 2014 when media baron-turned-politician Ashwani Chopra became the first non-Brahmin Punjabi to have been elected from the seat.
Khattar, however, remained at loggerheads with Chopra for five years. Chopra has since turned rebel and Khattar has managed to get the ticket for his close aide Bhatia.
During the municipal elections in Karnal in December, the BJP again played the Punjabi vs non-Punjabi card, registering a major win. Ads appeared in vernacular newspapers projecting Khattar as the first Punjabi chief minister of the state. The idea was to consolidate the Punjabis on the seat which is traditionally a Brahmin seat.
By fielding Bhatia, another Punjabi, Khattar wants a repeat of the Karnal municipal elections. The Congress has played it safe by fielding its former Speaker Kuldeep Sharma, a Brahmin, from the seat.
The strategy in Rohtak
The BJP is also extending its strategy to the Jat-dominated Rohtak seat, the pocketborough of Hooda and his family. Hooda’s father, freedom fighter Ranbir Singh, was the Rohtak MP twice in the 1950s. Since 1991, Hooda has held the seat four times and his son Deepender three times.
In 2014, BJP fielded a Jat candidate, O.P. Dhankar, against Deepender but he lost by a margin of 1.7 lakh votes.
This time, the BJP has fielded the Brahmin candidate Arvind Sharma, a two-time Congress MP from Karnal who recently joined the BJP.