With just a day left for campaigning for the October 21 assembly elections, the widespread perception in Haryana seems to be: the Congress has given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a walkover although the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) are still very much in the fray in the Jat belt of central Haryana.
For the average voter in Haryana the election has really boiled down to: who else if not the BJP? The INLD and its breakaway JJP still appeal to the Jat community but in select pockets where people still recall the patronage provided by the Chautalas and the Lals, the two erstwhile doyens of state politics.
The Congress’ condition is that of a terminally-ill patient going stuck with an incompetent medical team. The Hooda faction of the party is concentrating mainly on staying relevant by winning their stronghold of Rohtak district where the former chief minister and four-time MP is facing a tough challenge from Satish Nandal of the BJP.
Kumari Selja, better known for her proximity to the Gandhis, is going through the motions of campaigning and is said to be hoping that the Congress regains some of the lost ground in its former stronghold. Hope in politics is at best a therapy to calm the nerves and soothe oneself in the same manner as a sedative and hallucinogen.
Recently, the Congress’ hopes were further dashed when its former state president and disgruntled Dalit leader Ashok Tanwar made a formal announcement of his support to Dushyant Chautala’s JJP. More than the actual influence Tanwar holds over the Dalit community, it is the optics of such a move that will hurt the grand old party. While it is almost impossible to keep all leaders happy within a party, the utter lack of management skills in handling the expectations of various factions and dissensions has solidified the existing image of a party without a clear vision and decisiveness — both qualities that voters of Haryana put a premium on.
In contrast, the BJP appears to be a party with a clear vision and the ability to realise it. Its recent Lok Sabha success has provided it the fillip to overcome anti-incumbency and disaffection among people. The common refrain is that the BJP might not be doing all things right but at least it has reduced corruption, eased access to government jobs and for a state high on nationalism, shown India’s enemies their place with the Balakot strikes and the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
The urbanised nature of Haryana has enabled an unprecedented carpet-bombing of the electorate’s mind with pro-BJP messages both on social and conventional media. This allows the BJP to turn every criticism of its moves, whether it be the Rafale controversy or the relevance of Article 370 in state elections into a weapon against the Opposition, mainly the Congress. Similarly, even though Rahul Gandhi is no longer the president of the Congress, he remains the favourite punching bag for both Congress and BJP supporters. While some call him ‘immature’ and ‘disconnected’ from ground realities of India, others patronisingly refer to him as well-meaning but elitist and incapable of uniting his own party, let alone the voters against the BJP.
It’s curious how a first-time MLA and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has been able to decimate the entire spectrum of Opposition with the use of clever implementation of welfare schemes, and emotive issues such as the NRC and Pakistan. By aggressively wooing the Jats, the BJP has virtually got itself rid of the tag of being a ‘non-Jat’ party, and with that it appears that the old order of Haryana politics now stands dismantled.
It would be nothing short of a miracle if the Opposition together manages to touch the half-way mark in the 90-seat Haryana assembly. What remains to be seen is how the INLD and JJP fare in this election; will they be able to retain their Jat strongholds or will it be the end of the family-based parties in the state.Valay Singh is a freelance journalist. Views expressed personal.