BJP has a headstart in Haryana despite Congress move on caste combo

Bula Devi
In the 2014 Assembly elections, BJP won 47 out of a total of 90 seats, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) bagged 19, Congress 15 and rest went to Independents.
It is firmly on course in Haryana, but the BJP is sparing no efforts to scale up its numbers in the upcoming assembly elections. The campaign is meticulously planned and strategised, and it has already kicked off with one round of high profile visits taking place.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state on September 8. The visit was for the culmination of ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra' in Rohtak which had started in Kalka a month earlier. Rohtak was apparently chosen since it happens to be the bastion of Congress’ two-time chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s attempt appears to be to restrict the reach of regional satraps - such as the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and its splinter group, Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) - or even halt them completely. While INLD veteran leader and former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala and his son, Ajay, are in Tihar Jail in connection with an illegal recruitment case of over 3,000 Junior Basic Teachers, Chautala’s grandson Dushyant split from INLD in 2018 after a long drawn family feud, and floated JJP.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, BJP won 47 out of a total of 90 seats, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) bagged 19, Congress 15 and rest went to Independents, Haryana Janhit Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The term of the current House will end on November 2.
As in the 2019 general elections, BJP would be depending heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity. Khattar enjoys PM Modi's trust and both go back a long way. Khattar was a pracharak in Haryana, when Modi was the RSS prabhari of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh . He was first off the blocks in implementing many of the schemes announced by the Centre. He also has a clean image and is openly against political influence in appointments.
The faction-ridden Congress on the other hand is more focussed on getting the caste combinations right . It's trying to weave together a Jat-Dalit-minority front against the BJP. Recently it made Kumari Selja the state party chief in place of another Dalit leader Ashok Tanwar. A sulking Bhupinder Hooda, who had threatened to part ways if his claims were ignored, was made the Congress Legislative Party leader replacing Kiran Choudhary. He was also made the chairman of the election management committee. But all these changes may have come in way too late.
Tanwar was a Rahul Gandhi appointee whereas Selja is closer to Sonia Gandhi. She has been the Dalit face of the party in the state and has many followers because she is the daughter of former party state chief Chaudhary Dalveer Singh. But the question still remains how far the party’s Jat workers will willingly work under a Dalit leader. The BJP swept Haryana in the 2019 general elections because nationalist sentiment subdued caste identities. Besides, of course, people voted for Narendra Modi.
If anything , that sentiment would have only grown in the four months since the general elections. Haryana sends a large number of its young men to the armed forces, and the Modi government's move to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir has a lot of takers here. The Congress stand on the issue may not find much resonance.
The election may also see a personal battle between the present chief minister and his predecessor. Hooda's followers would like to come up with comparisons of work done during his 10-year tenure and that done by Khattar. The Congress has in Hooda a doughty fighter who wouldn't give up very easily. Especially, since he has put a lot at stake by creating such an ugly scene before his demands were met. Hooda gave the impression the party will be finished in the state if he left. If the Congress falls badly short, knives will be out for him. On the other hand, the party may even consider it an achievement if he lands the job of leader of the Opposition.
The Congress is also poaching in INLD territory and some of Chautala’s confidantes have already been brought across to its camp. But then the deep-rooted factionalism in the party may deny it the bandwidth to make use of the caste combinations to challenge the Modi factor.
Even before the poll bugle has been sounded, the BJP has a headstart in Haryana.
Courtesy EconomicTimes
Bula Devi, a senior journalist, has covered politics for various publications for over two decades. The views expressed are personal.