Social Engineering and Opposition Disunity Favour BJP in Haryana

The BJP's consolidation of non-Jat castes has fuelled its success, nullifying renewed efforts by the Congress to make a comeback.

Despite being close to Delhi, politics of Haryana does not attract much attention of journalists and political experts based in the national capital region. The state is considered a citadel of Jat, who constitute around 27% of its population and have been a majority of chief ministers of the state. The current CM Manohar Lal Khattar is one of the few exceptions.

However, out of the state’s ten Lok Sabha seats, three – Faridabad, Gurgaon and Kurukshetra – are dominated by OBCs – Gurjars, Yadavs and Sainis respectively. The Sonipat seat has a good presence of Brahmins while Karnal has a sizeable Punjabi voter population. Ambala and Sirsa are reserved for SC candidates. The state’s assembly elections are held a few months after the general elections.

Before 2014, the BJP was a small player in the state. Politics was dominated by the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The BJP was a junior partner of the INLD. But in the “Modi wave”, the party won 7 seats in the state. The Congress could win only one, while the INLD got just two.

In the assembly elections held soon after, the BJP won 47 of the 90 seats. This was a gain of 43 seats, while the Congress fell from 40 to 15. The INLD also lost 12 seats, coming down to 19 seats. The Akali Dal (1), BSP (1), Haryana Janhit Congress (BL) of Kuldeep Bishnoi (2) and independent candidates (5) grabbed a few seats.

Since then, the BJP’s increased influence in the state has been maintained through a carefully crafted social engineering strategy.

Non-Jat social engineering

Previously, Jats used to call the shots in Haryana. The Congress and INLD were led by Jats – Bhupinder Hooda and Om Prakash Chautala respectively. “In the 2014 assembly elections, just seven of the BJP’s 47 MLAs were Jats. Having failed to attract the Jat voters and leaders away from the Congress and the INLD, the party focused aggressively on non-Jat castes”, says Pardeep , a lecturer in the political science department of Maharshi Dayanand Univeristy. The party’s decision to chose a Punjabi – Manohar Lal Khattar – to be the CM did not go down well with the Jats.

In February 2016, the Jat agitation for OBC reservation and the violence that accompanied it tried to portray the state government and the CM as villains. Rajkumar Saini, the BJP’s Kurukshetra MP who criticized the agitation, was targeted and his property was attacked by Jat agitators. Violence and counter-violence by Jats on the one hand and Sainis, Punjabis, Yadavs on the other, resulted in deaths of people from all the communities.

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This further helped the BJP in consolidating it’s hold on the non-Jat castes. To achieve this result, some experts claim the state government willingly let the violence escalate. In the end, the army and paramilitary forces had to be deployed to control the situation. Though the government issued a Bill to provide OBC reservation to the Jats, it was nullified by the judiciary.

Across the state, the Jats were overtly critical of the Khattar government. Non-Jat respondents praised it. “Jat dadagiri has ended, which is why they are criticising the government,” said a group of Dalit respondents in Sirsa. “Previously Jats used to corner all plum postings and jobs in the government. But the current government is impartial, giving equal opportunities to all castes,” said a group of OBC youth in Gurugram.

The BJP’s anti-dominant caste social engineering is not isolated to Haryana. The party has banked upon it in other states too, consolidating the non-Yadavs and non-Jatavs in UP and Bihar.

A bus set ablaze by a mob during the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana. Credit: PTI

A bus set ablaze by a mob during the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana. Credit: PTI

Opposition disunity

One of the main opposition parties, the INLD, was split after a family feud between Om Prakash Chautala’s sons – Ajay and Abhay. Ajay and Om Prakash are serving a sentence over a scam. Ajay’s sons Dushyant and Digvijay accuse their uncle Abhay of destroying the party. They formed the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). Om Prakash Chautala continues to back Abhay and the INLD.

Experts believe that the main reason for the split was who could claim the political legacy of Chaudhary Devi Lal, Om Prakash’s father and a former Haryana CM. The division of family properties was another reason cited for the split.

After the split, supporters of the INLD admitted that a majority of the party’s support base is shifting to Dushyant’s JJP. In the recent Jind assembly by election, the JJP was a runner up. The INLD candidate could not get even 5,000 votes.

While the INLD has weakened due to the split, the Congress continues to suffer because of infighting between Bhupinder Hooda, PCC president Ashok Tanwar and Kumari Selja. The BSP has formed an alliance with the Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP). This party was formed by the BJP’s Kurukshetra Raj Kumar Saini, who left the saffron party after the Jat reservation riots. He accused the party of failing to defend the rights of non-Jats). The alliance is fielding candidates in all ten seats of the state.

The Aam Aadmi Party and the JJP are also in talks of an alliance, and is likely to float candidates in all seats. In this scenario of a divided opposition, the ruling BJP is likely to get an advantage.

Abhay Singh Chautala (centre). Credit: Facebook/Abhay Singh Chautala

Government recruitment and concerns of employees

Most respondents across the state praised the Khattar government for impartial and transparent job recruitment in the state. The government recruited around 18,000 class four employees and filled up a number of openings in the Haryana police.

“Previously, all the jobs were as per the sifarish of senior leaders and ministers. This time, everything was done on camera and only worthy candidates were selected,” said a group of respondent in Bhiwani. The fact that Jats could not have a sway on these openings was also pointed out by a number of non-Jat respondents. In a state where an ex-CM is in jail over a job-related scam, this is no small achievement.

Besides, the state government also implemented the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations on January 1, 2016, one of the first to do so. However, a number of state government employees were critical of the government on the issue of HRA. Employees are supposed to get medical allowance, educational allowance and HRA along with basic pay. The allowance increases with an increase in the basic pay.

The state government has currently put the HRA to its employees on hold, as it has formed a committee to determine if it should provide the allowance as per the Seventh Pay Commission or increase it. “This is all an eyewash,” said an employee in Panchkula on condition of anonymity. “The government will never increase HRA more than the pay commission’s recommendation.”

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The employee said using this as a pretext, the government has put the HRA disbursal on hold. “We are getting only the old rate HRA for the past four years. Even the mandatory 10% increase per year did not happen,” said another employee in Rohtak.

Since employees do not get arrears for HRA, even an increase at a later stage would not compensate the loss during this period. Most government employees The Wire met across the state were angry with the Khattar government on this issue.

Seat-to-seat scenario

In Faridabad, ex-MP Avtar Singh Bhadana has finally managed to wrest the Congress’ ticket from the hands of Lalit Nagar, who’s candidature was announced earlier by the party. This has created trouble for sitting MP and BJP candidate Krishan Pal Gurjar. Bhadana is known for his popularity and capability to influence voters. However, he may face problems from a section of Congress leaders, including Lalit Nagar, who are unhappy over this change in candidature.

In Gurgaon, sitting MP and Union minister Rao Indrajit Singh seems to have a clear edge over the Congress’s Captain Ajay Singh (both candidates are Yadav). In Hisar, the JJP’s Dushyant Chautala’s seems to be ahead in a contest with the Congress’s Bhavya Bishnoi, the son of Kuldeep Bishnoi and the Brijendra Singh, son of Union minister Birendra Singh.

The Congress’s Deepender Hooda seems to have a very thin edge in Rohtak, thanks to the work done by him and his father. The party is in neck-and-neck with the BJP in Ambala, where it has fielded senior leader and ex-Union minister Kumari Selja against the BJP’s sitting MP Rattan Lal Kataria.

Most respondents in Sonipat said that Bhupinder Hooda of the Congress has a good chance to win. He will face off against sitting MP Satish Kaushik of the BJP. While Brahmin voters have a good presence here and they favour Satish Kaushik, Hooda’s reach will make this seat difficult for the BJP.

Congress leader and former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Credit: Facebook

In Sirsa, PCC president Ashok Tanwar will enter a triangular contest between the BJP’s Sunita Duggal, an ex-administrative officer, and sitting MP Charanjit Singh Rori of INLD. The ancestral village of Devi Lal and Om Prakash Chautala falls under this seat and the INLD was very strong here. After the split, a significant section of party supporters have moved towards the BJP. “We will support the BJP in Lok Sabha, but in the assembly elections, we will go with Dushyant’s JJP,” said a group of respondents. This sentiment was echoed by many INLD supporters across various assembly segments of this seat.

A Jat vs Jat fight in Bhiwani-Mahendragarh will play out between sitting MP Dharambir and Shruti Chaudhary of Congress. The latter is the grand-daughter of former CM Bansilal. Though Dharambir is facing anti-incumbency, the BJP is morelikely to get the support of non-Jat castes.

In Ambala and Kurukshetra, the BJP will have easier sailings given its hold over the Punjabi voters of Ambala and Congress leader Naveen Jindal’s decision not contest from Kurukshetra.

Overall, despite renewed efforts by the Congress to make a comeback in Haryana, the BJP is unlikely to suffer a major setback. There are chances that the INLD will fail to open its account in the state.

Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist and co-author of Battleground UP: Politics in the Land of Ram.