In Haryana, it is said, that chhattis biradri or 36 castes co-exist peacefully. Of these, the Jats, a landowning community which forms about 27 percent of the state’s population, have dominated Haryana’s political economy.
However, the demand for reservation in 2016 and the agitation that took place in 2017, has deepened the chasm between the Jats and other communities. The social fabric has changed so much three years hence that ahead of the Lok Sabha polls this year, a new coinage was doing the rounds – painttis plus one, or 35 + 1.
Hisar, Bhiwani, Mahendergarh, Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonipat, Jind, and Kaithal form the Jat Belt in Haryana. Those who have been able to win these seats, have been traditionally able to control the politics of the state.
There are four political parties that have held the reins of Haryana.
The first is the family of former chief minister Bansi Lal, although its influence is limited to Bhiwani and Tosham. Currently, his daughter-in-law Kiran Choudhary is the Congress MLA from Tosham. Bansi Lal’s grand-daughter Shruti Choudhary contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Mahendergarh, but she lost to the BJP.
The second political family is that of Bhupinder Singh Hooda. His home turf remains Rohtak district, and his influence extends to Sonepat and Jhajjar. This year, even as Hooda has seemingly arm-twisted the Congress to remove Ashok Tanwar as the state unit chief, the upcoming election is a litmus test for him, especially after his son Deepinder lost the 2019 parliamentary election from Rohtak.
The third politically influential family in the state is that of the Chautalas. Former deputy prime minister Devi Lal’s family has dominated Haryana politics for decades, with his son Om Prakash Chautala becoming the chief minister. However, after a bitter family feud, the parent party INLD (Indian National Lok Dal) has split, and Om Prakash’s grandson Dushyant has floated a new party – JJP (Jannayak Janta Party) – which will be fighting its maiden assembly elections this time. The family still retains its influence in the Hisar and Sirsa belt.
The fourth family, which is striving to remain politically significant, is that of former chief minister Bhajan Lal. The family traditionally enjoyed influence in the Hisar area. Bhajan Lal’s son, Kuldeep Bishnoi is contesting from Adampur assembly seat. Bhajan Lal’s grandson Bhavya Bishnoi, who contested Lok Sabha elections on a Congress ticket, lost from Sirsa earlier this year.
BJP’s social engineering
While the Congress and the INLD have been traditionally battling for Jat votes, in 2014, the BJP initiated a new social engineering of consolidating the non-Jat votes.
In line with their experiment, when the BJP won 47 of the 90 assembly seats in 2014, they appointed Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi, as the chief minister. Khattar was the state’s first non-Jat chief minister in 20 years.
Khattar’s appointment has helped the BJP secure significant support from the less-dominant castes, including other backward castes (OBCs). The model is similar to the one that the BJP applied in Maharashtra the same year, consolidating the non-Maratha vote and making Devendra Fadnavis, a Brahmin, the chief minister.
The testimony to the success of BJP’s novelty social engineering was the saffron party winning 10 out of 10 parliamentary seats in Haryana in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Not only that, according to a CSDS Lokniti survey, the BJP secured more than 70 percent of the vote share of both non-Jat upper caste votes and OBC votes. Besides, 50 percent of the Jat vote share also went to the BJP.
As a result, the BJP, which was piggybacking on regional parties such as the INLD and the Vikas Party a decade ago, has emerged as a major political force in Haryana.
The saffron party's vote share has increased from a mere 12 percent in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections to 58 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This year too, propelled by a diminishing Congress and a split in the INLD
, the BJP is going to bank on non-Jat-Baniya-Punjabi votes. The party is also attempting to break into western Haryana – Hisar and Bhiwani – which has a significant chunk of OBCs, as well as northern Haryana, with SC/ST population which has traditionally voted for the Congress and the BJP.