When Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar broadcast the slogan ‘abki baaar 75 paar’ (this time we will win more than 75 seats) followed by a bicycle ride when he went to cast his vote, it was as if victory was a mere formality. But this was not to be.
The big message from the Haryana Assembly elections, the first big dent to BJP’s ‘invincibility’ post the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is that local issues matter and that people have learnt to de-couple national and local issues. Just six months ago during the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP swept in all 10 Lok Sabha seats, cornering 58 per cent vote share. As the Assembly results were being announced, it was hovering around a vote share of 36 per cent and it seemed unlikely that it would get a clear majority on its own. It had won the 2014 Assembly election with 47 seats.
The question of what caused people to move away from the party will be debated over the next few days and weeks. But on the face of it, it seems that electors decided to look beyond the Saffron party’s muscular nationalism and decisions like abrogation of Article 370 and assess whether all this had improved their lives in any way.
Massive unemployment in rural Haryana, which has armies of educated, idle youth, and inflation and a general slump in economic sentiment has brought out latent anger. Moreover, rapid mechanisation has led to about 2 per cent of the rural working population to abandon farming and enter the job market each year.
That the blowback from voters happened when the Opposition Congress went to the polls as a deeply divided house, and with no real election strategy in place, shows that the result was an anti-BJP vote more than anything else. Just like BJP’s military machismo did not sway people, its attempt to build a non-Jat caste coalition also did not work in this election. Perhaps no one would be more surprised at the outcome than the Congress, which at one stage during the counting was neck-and-neck with the BJP at 35 seats and talking of forming a government with the help of others.
The other major Opposition party, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala is a shadow of its former self and managed to win a single seat. But most interesting story of this election is the rise of Chautala’s estranged grandson, Dushyant Chautala – now the head of the fledgeling Jannayak Janata Party (JJP). He seems to have made headway in wresting the political legacy of the late Devi Lal by emerging as the kingmaker with 10 seats. Dushyant knows that no party will be able to form the government without his support. It is not clear yet which way he is headed, but the BJP could well be his first stop.
Chief minister Khattar has been summoned to New Delhi by BJP chief Amit Shah to strategise over the government formation. All in all, it maybe a hung verdict, but the voter has spoken her mind decisively.
(Chander Suta Dogra is a senior journalist and author. Her researched book on India’s soldiers, Missing In Action, is due to be published in December 2019)
The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.