Chandigarh: The politics of the Jat heartland could be up for interesting developments now that cracks have appeared in the ruling coalition of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) in Haryana. Amidst the suspicion that BJP might wish to have its partner, the JJP, fight separately to cut into Congress’ Jat votes, posturing by both parties has done nothing to quell rumours.
The JJP had fought the last polls on a distinctly anti-BJP plank and since coming to power in alliance with BJP, has seen a dent in its core Jat support base over a number of factors including its perceived lack of action in support of farmers during their 2020 protest. Thus whether BJP’s hopes in the state next year depend on the snapping of its ties with JJP remains the burning question now.
It all started last week when the BJP in-charge for the state Biplab Kumar Deb met four independent MLAs on June 8 and another independent MLA on June 9, setting off the debate on the fate of its alliance with JJP.
The BJP’s tie-up with the JJP four years ago happened after it fell short of the majority in the 2019 state assembly elections, forcing it to take help of JJP’s 10 MLAs.
With the BJP’s tally up from the initial 40 to 41 after the recent by-election win of former Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi’s son, Bhavya, support of five independents is enough for the saffron party to comfortably stay in power without JJP’s support in the 90-member state assembly.
While BJP leader and state chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar hinted in a press conference on June 11 that the party’s alliance with the JJP was very much intact for now, he also said that calls on the future of the alliance are all up to the party’s state in-charge. That said, both parties have not been averse to sending different signals.
A day after Khattar’s statement, JJP leader and deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala called a meeting of party leaders at his official residence in Chandigarh, beginning preparations for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
After the meeting, Dushyant ‘s father and the JJP’s national president Abhay Chautala announced big rallies in all 10 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state, with the first rally planned in Sonepat on July 2.
The BJP too called a meeting of all its Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs in Gurgaon on June 13 and reportedly asked all of them to brace for the upcoming general polls.
In that meeting, Biplab Deb asked MPs to ensure that the Modi government’s achievements reach every household of their respective constituencies. BJP won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2019 general elections.
MPs were also assigned duties ahead of Union home minister Amit Shah’s Sirsa rally on June 18. Sirsa is the stronghold of the Chautalas, the clan of Jat leader Chaudhary Devi Lal.
The JJP emerged in 2018 due to a split in the Chautala family’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which now claims to be the true heir to Devi Lal’s legacy.
Making the rift more explicit between both the parties, JJP’s deputy chief minister Dushyant Chautala in an latest interview to The Print on June 14 stated the BJP was preparing for the polls with all the 10 parliamentary seats in mind, and “so are we.”
What does this rift indicate politically?
Haryana is known to have sharp caste-based fault lines. Jats, who mostly form the peasantry here and represent more than a quarter of the state’s population, have dominated the politics in the state since its birth in 1966.
This can be gauged from the fact that in the last 57 years of the state’s existence, Haryana has been ruled by Jat chief ministers for 33 years. Bhajan Lal and incumbent chief minister Khattar are the only two non-Jats chief ministers with long tenures.
Before 2014, the BJP had been a marginal player in Haryana politics. It only won double digit seats in the state once, in the 1996 elections.
But the 2014 assembly election was a turning point in Haryana politics. The BJP pulled off miraculous victory, winning 47 out of 90 seats by increasing its vote share by 24%.
As per the voting pattern analysis of the 2014 elections by Lokniti, BJP’s victory was based on its success in consolidating support among the ‘upper’ castes and Other Backward Classes. Its vote share among Jats was only 17%.
In 2019, while BJP won all 10 seats by mobilising all caste groups, including Jats, on emotional issues like the Pulwama attack and hyper nationalism, it slipped below the majority mark in the assembly elections six months later presumably due to strategic voting by Jats against the party.
Out of 90, there are 37 constituencies where the Jat population is more than 25%. These are mostly in the western and eastern parts of the state, which have naturally become JJP’s support bases. BJP’s support bases are mostly in the northern parts (with Punjabi, Baniya, and Brahmin populations) and southern areas (with Gujjars, Ahirs and OBC communities).
INLD’s base, earlier across the state, has now shrunk to the western part. Congress’ support base, in comparison, is in pockets. This has also fuelled faint rumours among political circles on a possibility of a INLD-Congress alliance now.
Dr Kushal Pal, political analyst and head of the political science department at the Dyal Singh College in Haryana’s Karnal told The Wire that BJP’s strategy behind ending ties with JJP appears to be to isolate and divide Jats and then ramp up its support base among non-Jats, as it did in the 2014 elections. This stands to directly affect the Congress’s chances too.
It is a different matter as to whether such a move will translate into votes for BJP, said Pal.
Pal added that JJP’s performance in the only election it fought in 2019 was largely driven by an anti-BJP narrative. There is also the matter of anti-incumbency against BJP, at the Union government and in the state.
A BJP Lok Sabha MP from Haryana, however, denied this caste polarisation theory.
Requesting to remain anonymous, he told The Wire that BJP has the support of all communities in the state because of its track record of good governance and development in the last nine years.
“We believe in the Sabka Saath and Sabka Vikas model and will again get a thumping victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly elections,” he added.
He then said that as far as continuing the alliance with JJP was concerned, this is for the high command to decide.