Contrary to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s slogan of “Abki baar 75 Paar” (more than 75 seats this time) in Haryana and the predictions of a landslide by most of the exit polls, the party fell short of even the majority mark in the 90-member Assembly. The ground reports suggest that the issues of livelihood, farmers distress, unemployment and economic slowdown took precedence over national issues in the State and thus there prevailed a strong anti-incumbency sentiment, among other things.
Hoping to romp home riding on the wave of nationalism in the wake of dilution of Article 370, the BJP in Haryana carried out a “high-profile” campaign, including seven rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, harping on national security and resorting to Congress bashing, but the electorate was left unamused. The claims of the BJP leadership of a clean and transparent governance also failed to impress the voters.
As this dawned upon the party campaign managers as well as on Mr. Modi, there was an obvious shift from his earlier addresses. He began to talk about farmers, traders and youth towards the last leg of electioneering, but it was too late by then.
The Congress’ rather “silent” campaign, on the other hand, led by two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, his son and ex-Rohtak MP Deepender Hooda and State party chief Kumari Selja successfully weaved a narrative around the farmers distress, unemployment and tapped the discontent among the traders and the government employees. Having already supported the dilution of Article 370 going against the party line, Bhupinder Singh Hooda not just managed to blunt the BJP’s attack on the Congress over nationalism, but also made it a Hooda vs Khattar election to his advantage. The Congress central leadership also remained strategically away from the campaign leaving it entirely to Mr. Hooda.
“Every vote to Congress candidate will be a vote for me,” reiterated Mr. Hooda at every election rally, not forgetting to remind the audience as to how his government had waived ₹1,600 crore pending electricity bills for the farmers and allotted over three lakh plots to Scheduled Castes. The party’s promise to increase old age pension and free electricity and free travel for women in Haryana roadways buses also caught the voters’ fancy.
The much-talked about Jat and non-Jat divide in the State, especially in the wake of the Jat reservation agitation in 2016, also appeared to have been negated by the strong anti-incumbency with the Congress gaining 10 seats along the Grand Trunk Road belt, considered a stronghold of the BJP with a large non-Jat population. Nine of these seats were previously held by the BJP. The results even shocked the BJP leaders since the party had swept the municipal and Mayor elections in the belt less than a year back.
Of the 11 BJP Ministers in the fray, only three managed to win highlighting the extent of the electorate’s anger.
However, the split in the Indian National Lok Dal and much delayed change in Haryana Congress State leadership worked to the advantage of the BJP. The ticket distribution and the infighting among the BJP cadres, however, hit the party hard.
Haryana is a lost opportunity for the Congress and a lucky comeback for the BJP.