As the election in Haryana draws closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears set for a huge win, with a discernible pro-incumbency wave across the state. The BJP, which swept the Lok Sabha polls in the state just months ago by winning all 10 seats, has set a target for 75 seats (out of 90) in the assembly, by coining the slogan, “Ab ki baar pachhatar paar”.
The BJP’s win in 2014 had come on the back of severe anti-incumbency against the Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress government and a three-way split among the Om Prakash Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the Congress and the BJP, amidst the ‘Modi wave’ sweeping across North India. Manohar Lal Khattar, then a surprise pick as chief minister, has steadily emerged as a popular figure in the state despite his fumbling ways in the initial days.
The 2014 win was no less significant as the saffron party raised its seat tally from a paltry four to 47 to win its first election in Haryana. Back then, the BJP had polled only a third of the votes (33.2 percent) in a triangular contest to win a simple majority. However, it has gone on to consolidate its gains and emerge in pole position. In fact, if one goes by the Lok Sabha results in the state four months ago, when it led in 83 out of the 90 assembly segments, its target of 75 might seem a tad conservative.
That doesn’t mean the BJP has given up on the seven seats it trailed. While majority of them are in the Jat belt of Rohtak where Deepender Singh Hooda lost by a whisker to turncoat Arvind Sharma, it has deployed boxer Yogeshwar Dutt to wrest one of them and co-opted Meo Muslim MLAs from Mewat, Zakir Hussain and Naseem Ahmed, by getting them to defect from the INLD.
Two other seats it trailed are Narnaund and Badli, represented by Cabinet ministers Captain Abhimanyu and Om Prakash Dhankar respectively, where the party has thrown the kitchen sink to try and hold on to it.
While the BJP has been focussing on every single seat in this manner, there is complete disarray in the Congress camp. With Hooda managing to successfully browbeat the national leadership into acceding to his demands by threatening to break away weeks ahead of the poll, the party tickets have been apportioned among senior leaders with Hooda himself cornering a majority of them for his supporters.
PCC Chief Kumari Selja, Kuldeep Bishnoi, Kiran Chowdhary, Randeep Surjewala and Ajay Singh Yadav too got a share in the Congress ticket pie, leaving veterans such as Sampat Singh in the lurch. In fact, Congress saw some high-profile desertions in its wake as former PCC Chief Ashok Tanwar too exited the party even as the BJP was quick to snaffle Singh, to utilise his clout in the Hissar-Fatehbad belt to its advantage.
As for the INLD, the vertical split in the party less than a year ago has rendered it irrelevant in this election although its offshoot, the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) led by the young Dushyant Chautala, has emerged as the party with a larger support base. While the JJP appears to be in contention in a dozen seats in triangular contests with the BJP and the Congress or in a direct tussle with the BJP, the INLD could even draw a blank this election.
Despite INLD’s 84-year old patriarch Om Prakash Chautala addressing a record number of rallies while on parole for two months, the party appears to be in dire straits with it even failing to field candidates in all constituencies, including in its erstwhile stronghold of Sirsa. The INLD also failed to field a candidate in Karnal against Khattar, where the Chief Minister looks poised for a thumping win.
In the Lok Sabha election, the BJP raised its vote share to 58 percent from the 33 percent it polled in 2014. This kind of jump, for a party which was known to exist only on the Grand Trunk Road belt in Haryana, is nothing short of phenomenal, and could mean a landslide in its favour in this assembly election. The saffron party has been consolidating its gains steadily, as evident in the mayoral elections and the Jind by-poll, just ahead of the Lok Sabha election.
The Balakot anti-terror strikes too contributed to its impressive performance in the general election, and now, in the aftermath of the abrogation of special privileges in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP has surged further ahead in Haryana where the move has been wildly popular. With more than 10 percent of India’s armed forces coming from Haryana, the state is a fertile ground for nationalist propaganda and the BJP has been trying to fight the election on issues of national security more than bread-and-butter issues.
Although the Congress manifesto looks more welfare-driven and superior to the BJP’s, it may not matter at all in an election where the latter looks like it is running away with the spoils. With the divided opposition of the Congress and the JJP unlikely to cross a certain threshold, the BJP could be in for a landslide, a la the Aam Aadmi Party (in Delhi) in 2015. There is no doubt it is going to be a ‘phir ek baar Manohar sarkar’, splashed everywhere you travel in Haryana.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator and editor, The Kochi Post. Views are personal.