Unlike in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always had only a minor presence in Haryana, and the 2014 Assembly election results look miraculous if compared to those of 2009. In that election, the BJP had won only four seats. Its candidates had forfeited deposits in as many as 75 of the 90 Assembly seats. The secret to the BJP's success this time rested on consolidating non-Jat votes, especially Dalits, in the state.
The strategy devised by party President Amit Shah involved deputing Dalit MPs to spend days and nights in Dalit bastis. They were asked to eat, sleep and hold morning and evening bhajans, followed by political discussions.
Dalits comprise nearly 20 per cent of the state and have suffered much at the hands of the dominant Jats. Atrocities on Dalits, particularly rape of women, had reached record proportions during the Om Prakash Chautala government of 1999-2004. The 10 years of Bhupinder Singh Hooda also witnessed atrocities on Dalits, making both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shah to raise the issue of the safety of the women in the public rallies.
BJP Dalit leaders reminded their community about the Chautala government’s atrocities. This, according to BJP strategists, worked to negate the Chautala-led Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the party with deeper roots in Haryana, benefiting from the anti-incumbency mood against the Hooda government. Kailash Vijayavargiya, the BJP's Madhya Pradesh leader and Haryana in-charge, also reached out to Dera Sachha Sauda and other sects with sizable influence among the Dalits. The Dera asked its followers to vote for the BJP, while the party picked up some of the issues such as female foeticide and anti-liquor campaigns which were dear to the Dera.
However, the BJP also didn’t ignore the Jats, comprising 26 per cent of the electorate, either. Jats are both politically and economically dominant community in Haryana. It fielded as many as 26 Jat candidates, including Jat leaders like Captain Abhimanyu Singh. According to BJP leaders, the party sought to appeal to the aspirations of the Jat youth with promises of jobs and development that the government could bring.
The fact that INLD won eight of nine seats in its stronghold in Sirsa, and bagged a vote share of 24.1 per cent suggests its core support base remained intact. The party had a vote share of 25.79 per cent in the 2009 assembly elections but its seats have come down from 31 then to 19 now.
The BJP, it would seem, successfully consolidated non-Jat castes at the expense of the ruling Congress, whose vote share declined from 35 per cent in the 2009 to 20 per cent in these elections.
The BJP reached out to other influential communities, like Ahirs, Gujjars, Punjabis and Brahmins. Kishan Pal Gujjar, a minister in the Modi government, worked among his community in Faridabad and adjoining areas. The party’s recent import from the Congress, Rao Inderjit Singh, an Ahir leader, has influence in the Rewari region and its state leaders like Ram Bilas Sharma and Anil Vij further consolidated the Brahmin support.
The non-Jat consolidation, however, is going to present BJP with a challenge when selecting a chief minister. Appointing a Jat would be resented by other communities, particularly the new support base, the Dalits. But having a non-Jat CM from any other caste other than Brahmins would not be acceptable to the influential Jats. So, Sharma looks to be a frontrunner.
The BJP has proved its winning seven of 10 seats in the Lok Sabha elections wasn’t a flash in the pan. The Kuldeep Bishnoi-led Haryana Janhit Congress, pre-poll ally in the Lok Sabha polls, could bag a mere two seats in the Assembly elections. BJP President said this vindicated their decision to part ways with the regional party. BJP had demanded to contest 45 of the 90 seats, which Bishnoi had refused to grant. Shah said BJP won more seats, 47, than what it had asked from Bishnoi.
The election has been a watershed in Haryana politics. The BJP has reinvented itself from being seen as a Brahmin-dominated urban party to one that has won seats across Haryana, and received support from all sections of the society, including some of the Jats.
RAM BILAS SHARMA
The 65-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party state president is considered the frontrunner. Sharma, a four-time MLA from Mahendragarh, is a good orator. He has an RSS background and was the health minister in the Bansi Lal government. He is close to senior party leader and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and hails from the influential Brahmin community of Haryana.
MANOHAR LAL KHATTAR
A bachelor and former RSS pracharak, Khattar is a member of the BJP’s national executive. He could be a surprise choice. He represents the sizable Punjabi community of Haryana. Currently, he is BJP general secretary (organisation). His lack of experience as a legislator could be a drawback. He debuted in the electoral battlefield in this election, winning from Karnal.
The 46-year-old Jat face of the party won his seat from Narnaund. He had cont-ested the 2004 Lok Sabha polls against Bhupinder Singh Hooda, then state Congress president, when he finished second. In 2009, he contested against Deepender, the CM’s son and again finished second. He was until recently BJP’s national spokesperson. He is the son-in-law of BJP’s Jat leader, the late Sahib Singh Verma.
The external affairs minister is being talked about as a possibility. However, Swaraj is said to be unwilling to move to Haryana. She hails from Ambala Cantt and became an MLA at 25, when she defeated then Chief Minister Bansi Lal in the 1977 Janata wave. She again won the seat in 1987 and was a minister in the Devi Lal Cabinet.