Chandigarh: Haryana is voting Monday in the first elections after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic decision to scrap Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, with all eyes on the ruling BJP that is eyeing a consecutive second term in power.
Before it came to power on its own for the first time in the 2014 assembly elections — winning 47 of the 90 seats — the BJP had virtually no presence in Haryana. Now, led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the party is aiming to re-write history by securing a successive win with a publicly announced target of as many as 75 seats.
A beleaguered Congress, led by former chief minister and party stalwart Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is fighting with its back to the wall in the hope that anti-incumbency will dent an overconfident BJP’s prospects. The party remained deeply divided for the past five years but put its act together at the eleventh hour to bounce back into the reckoning.
Jannayak Janata Party, the breakaway faction of Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), is striving to reclaim its core vote bank — the Jats of Haryana. Led by former INLD MP Dushyant Chautala, the late supremo Devi Lal’s grandson, JJP has converted straight fights into tough triangular contests in several key constituencies.
The INLD, which has now been out of power in the state for 15 years and is only a pale shadow of its former self following the ugly family feud last year, expects only to remain afloat.
On the margins are Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, the Lok Suraksha Party headed by BJP’s former rebel MP Raj Kumar Saini, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj Party — all are testing the waters.
More than 1.83 crore voters in Haryana are expected to cast their vote Monday. There are 1,169 candidates in the fray on 90 seats.
Not a walk in the park for BJP
Haryana has traditionally followed the pattern that the winner of the Lok Sabha elections also wins the assembly polls, which are usually held a few months after the former.
While this alone seemingly gives the BJP an edge over other parties in the state, the fact that it won all 10 seats in the Lok Sabha elections in May with a huge margin only adds to the easy predictability of the election outcome.
A deeper analysis of the ground situation, however, throws up a more balanced picture. The BJP is not likely to have its imagined cakewalk, especially in the Jat belt where the JJP has emerged as its main contender pushing the Congress to the third position.
The Congress appears to be comfortable on most of the seats it had won last time. The party has also succeeded in re-energising its cadres in several pockets, resulting in keen contests even on seats the BJP considers its strongholds.
The result is that even though the ruling party remains ahead in the race, and many of its candidates are expected to breeze through, there are also several candidates including some cabinet ministers who are keeping their fingers tightly crossed.
The missing ‘Modi wave’
The palpable ‘Modi wave’ that had overwhelmed Haryana like several other states during the Lok Sabha elections appears to have a rather dull resonance in the assembly polls.
Even the Article 370 ‘masterstroke’ boasted by the BJP, or the economic slowdown played up by the Congress, appears to have made much impact on the ground.
Rather, local leaders, their personalities, performance, achievements and limitations are dominating the public discourse.
Awareness of this perhaps induced both the BJP and the Congress to experiment with a large number of defectors from rival political parties as well as fresh faces on several seats.
This “course correction”, however, came with a steep price. On several seats, those denied tickets are either openly in the fray as independent candidates or are working in the background against the party candidates. The JJP has made the most of this discontentment and fielded many BJP rebels.
How campaigns played out
Though betraying hubris and arrogance at times, the ruling party’s poll campaign largely followed the all-India pattern of BJP state election campaigns, starting as early as May and successively intensifying its efforts peaking with the 16-day Jan Aashirwad Yatra of the chief minister even before the elections were announced.
National leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh sharpened the BJP’s campaign.
The Congress, as is usual, got to it late, with internal leadership squabbles delaying their campaign, which largely remained individual-centric. Apart from Bhupinder Singh Hooda, not many senior leaders went campaigning beyond their own constituencies.
Kumari Selja, the newly appointed state party chief who is not in the race this time, actively campaigned for the party’s candidates. While party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi did not visit Haryana at all, former chief Rahul Gandhi addressed a couple of rallies.
‘Imaandaar sarkar’ vs ‘berozgaar yuva’
After the elections were announced, the BJP’s campaign has focused almost entirely on CM Manohar Lal Khattar’s image of an honest and clean politician. The five years of his governance encapsulated in the slogan, “Manohar sarkaar, imandar sarkaar“.
The chief minister also focussed on “transparency” in governance and government recruitments. His attack on the Congress and the INLD was limited to recalling their “corrupt and dynastic” rules.
The Congress campaign focused mainly on the issue of unemployment in the state, which according to them, has touched new heights. Several Congress leaders also referred to the economic downturn leading to shutting of businesses and trade in the state further accentuating unemployment.
Dushyant Chautala, who singularly led JJP campaign across the state covering majority of the constituencies, kept the attack on Khattar’s claim of clean governance. He listed a host of alleged scams — mining, private transport policy, scam in SC/ST post matric scholarships, paper leaks — that came to light during the Khattar government, undermining the BJP’s claim of a corruption-free 5-year tenure.