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Haryana elections: BJP looking at an easy comeback amid divided Congress & weak INLD

Lack of any anti-incumbency is reflective of the way the wind is blowing in the poll-bound state.

, ET Bureau|
Oct 05, 2019, 11.00 PM IST
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BCCL
Haryana
Buoyed by this clean sweep in LS polls and 19 opposition MLAs crossing over to its fold, BJP has set a target of 75 seats in the state elections.
Smoking a hookah outside his house in Rohtak city, business owner Daljeet Dankhad makes it amply clear which party will get his vote on October 21. “After Tau [INLD founder Devi Lal], [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is the only credible leader Haryana has seen. We will vote for [Chief Minister Manohar Lal] Khattar as he is Modi’s choice.”

Ask him about the reasons for backing the BJP and he shoots off: “Abrogation of Article 370 in J&K, the Balakot airstrikes and the pension scheme. Also, because BJP united all 35 non-Jat communities”. Dankhad too is a non-Jat like Khattar. Jats, who make up around 27 per cent of Haryana’s population, have traditionally ruled the state’s politics.

But that is changing.

Lack of any anti-incumbency in Rohtak, once the stronghold of Congress leader and former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is reflective of the way the wind is blowing in the poll-bound state. Five years ago, against a pro-BJP wave, Hooda had ensured that 12 seats from Rohtak, Sonipat and Jajjar went to the Congress. But the tide had turned by May this year, when Hooda and his son Deepender lost the Lok Sabha polls from Sonipat and Rohtak, respectively.

BJP: Strong to Stronger
“BJP’s motto is ‘Haryana one, Haryanvis one’,” Khattar had told ET Magazine during the Lok Sabha polls in May. The party won all 10 seats. Buoyed by this clean sweep and 19 opposition MLAs crossing over to its fold in the last five years, the BJP has set a target of 75 seats, against the 47 it won in last assembly elections. Haryana assembly has 90 seats.

The target is not far-fetched. In the past five years, the party has increased its strength to 67 MLAs — 17 rebels from INLD, two from Congress and one independent. “There is no Opposition left in Haryana. While BJP is strong on all seats, INLD or Congress have presence only in a few pockets,” state BJP chief Subhash Barala tells ET Magazine.

Congress: Hopeful of a Return
Undeterred by the 2014 defeat, factionalism within the Congress and corruption charges against him, Hooda, the party’s chief ministerial candidate, feels it still has an edge in the state polls.

“BJP can even claim to win 110 seats in a 90-seat assembly! Who can stop them? Congress will get a majority,” he tells ET Magazine. He says the BJP has not fulfilled even one of its 154 promises made in the by Kumari Selja, Hooda, Kuldeep Bishnoi and Shruti Choudhry. Some of its MLAs have even defected to the BJP and Jannayak Janata Party ( JJP), a new outfit formed by Dushyant Chautala, a former INLD leader.

Last week, Ashok Tanwar, removed as Haryana Congress chief and replaced by Selja, protested outside party chief Sonia Gandhi’s residence. He was miffed at being sidelined in deciding poll candidates. But Hooda does not appear worried.

“This is part of the game. You are elected; later you make way for someone else. I have been there too. Seljaji and I travelled across the state and saw a lot of confidence about returning to power.”

However, the cracks finally showed up on Saturday, when Tanwar quit the Congress, citing “internal contradictions” within the party in his resignation letter.

INLD: Caving In
Five years ago, INLD emerged as the second largest party, winning 19 seats. Then, rebellion struck. After 17 of its MLAs crossed over to the BJP, it lost the tag of the main opposition party.

Then there is the clash within the Chautala family that runs INLD. With Devi Lal’s grandson Abhay Chautala expelling nephew Dushyant from INLD, he has floated his own outfit, Jannayak Janata Party. Meanwhile, former CM and Devi Lal’s son OP Chautala is back on the campaign trail, after being granted parole. The 84-year-old along with his son Ajay Chautala (Dushyant’s father) were jailed six years ago in a recruitment scam. INLD has also tied up Akali Dal, which will contest on three Haryana seats bordering Punjab.

“Earlier, all non-Congress votes would go to INLD and BJP has been the biggest beneficiary of the split within the INLD. From a 24 per cent vote share in 2014 assembly polls, its share went down to 1.4 per cent in 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” says Balwant Takshak, a veteran journalist based in Haryana.

JJP: Testing Waters

Dushyant Chautala’s JJP is playing solo yet going all out — fielding candidates on all 90 seats. “I had no choice but to form my own party,” says the fourth generation member of the Devi Lal clan and a former Lok Sabha MP from Hisar.

“While the media keeps writing about INLD and Congress MLAs joining BJP, I want to tell you that nearly 45 former Congress and BJP MLAs have joined the JJP. I’m not sure about BJP’s ‘75-paar’ target but we will certainly send it ‘Yamunapaar’ in the polls,” says the 31-year-old. “Our seat target is 46 plus. In the nine months of our existence, we have come out as the strongest opposition. Our strength is 56 per cent youth of Haryana, which is a young state with high unemployment level,” he says.

JJP has promised 75 per cent quota in all jobs to people with Haryana domicile.

The Sideliners
There are several other parties in the fray too. The BSP, which fought the last elections with INLD, and the AAP, which tied up with JJP in the Lok Sabha polls, are fighting it alone, so is Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj India and former BJP MP Rajkumar Saini’s Loktantra Suraksha Party.

“Whosoever wins the Lok Sabha polls has swept state polls in the past. While the fight remains between the BJP and Congress, the BJP has an edge,” says Takshak.

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