“I don’t particularly like [the Indian National Congress’ Hisar candidate] Jai Parkash but I will still vote for him,” said farmer Om Parkash, sitting in a park in Hisar. “The BJP has completely failed to provide employment to our youth or control rising prices.”

Parkash is not alone in his discontent. Political winds in Haryana seem to be blowing against the Bharatiya Janata Party.

On May 7, three independent MLAs withdrew support from the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Haryana government, leaving it below the majority mark in the state assembly. All three announced that they would back the Indian National Congress.

This political storm came days before the Lok Sabha polls in the state on May 25.

Scroll spoke with these three MLAs about why they switched from the BJP to the Congress as well as with political observers and voters in Haryana to understand what these developments mean for the upcoming Parliamentary and assembly elections in the state.

What emerged is a strong sense of unhappiness among a significant sections of voters over the BJP governments’ violent reprisal against protesting farmers in the last three years as well as other governance issues in Haryana. This places the Congress in a strong position for the upcoming assembly election later this year and portends significant reverses for the BJP in the Lok Sabha election in the state.

At the same time, the BJP retains a core constituency of voters in the state due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and the BJP’s cultivation of a non-Jat Hindu voter coalition over the last ten years.

A rebellion

All three MLAs – Sombir Sangwan, Randhir Singh Gollen and Dharampal Gonder – are first-time legislators. They told Scroll that they withdrew support for the government in response to demands from their constituents.

“I supported the government because the public had asked me to,” said Gollen, the MLA from Pundri, in Kaithal district. He is from the Ror community, a forward caste that makes up an estimated 2%-5% of the population of the state. “Now they have demanded that I withdraw support, so I did.”

Gonder, the MLA from Nilokheri in Karnal district, is from the Scheduled Caste community, to which about a fifth of Haryana’s population belongs. He told Scroll that former chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is contesting the Lok Sabha election from the Karnal constituency, had held three election programs in Karnal. But he did not invite Gonder to any of these events.

“My constituents told me that they felt insulted at this slight,” he said. “They told me to withdraw support from the BJP government so I did.”

Sangwan, the MLA from Dadri in Charkhi Dadri district, is from the socio-politically influential Jat community that makes up another fifth of Haryana’s population. He alleged corruption, the lack of respect for elected representatives, excessive control by the bureaucracy and the poor state of education in government schools as the reasons for his decision.

He said that voters in Dadri were happy with the decision.

(From L to R): Dadri MLA Sombir Sangwan, Nilokheri MLA Dharampal Gonder and Pundri MLA Randhir Singh Gollen. All three first-time independent legislators withdrew support from the BJP state government in Haryana on May 7, putting in question the legislative majority of the government. Credit: Facebook

Gonder said that the chief minister, Nayab Singh Saini had not contacted him or tried to reconcile with him.

Sangwan and Gonder said that they were supporting the Congress in their Parliamentary constituencies. Gollen said that the candidate of the Congress’ alliance partner, the Aam Admi Party, had his support in his Lok Sabha constituency.

Both Gollen and Gonder remained tight-lipped about whether they would contest the upcoming assembly election on a Congress ticket. Gollen said it was too soon to decide while Gonder said that he would leave the decision to the public.

Sangwan joined the Congress two weeks back. He confirmed that he would contest on a Congress ticket.

Public anger

Political observers in Haryana that Scroll spoke to said that it is unlikely that the BJP will win a majority in the upcoming assembly elections. It had not even formed a majority in 2019 and was forced to change its chief minister in March to try and ward off anti-incumbency for the Lok Sabha election.

One of the chief reasons for this is the dominant Jat community’s anger against the BJP.

Uday Che in his office in Hisar city. He has been covering Haryana for 19 years and runs the YouTube channel Jan Manch. | Vineet Bhalla

The Jat community has taken umbrage at the BJP over its demand for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs not being met, the Union and state governments’ tough response to the Jat dominated-farmer’s movement and the lack of firm action against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Singh, accused of sexual assault and harassment by wrestlers who happen to be Jat, according to Che.

This anger means BJP leaders have faced boycott calls and been shown black flags on the campaign trail in Haryana’s Jat heartland.

Sensing the public mood, the three independent MLAs had shifted away from the BJP and towards the Congress, which is expected to form the government after the assembly election, Rajendra Sharma, Head, Department of Political Science at the Maharishi Dayanand University in Rohtak told Scroll.

In the 2019 Parliamentary election, 58% of all voters voted for the BJP. However, its overall vote share fell drastically in the assembly elections a few months later. And while the BJP is often accused of being anti-Jat, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as many as half of all Jat voters in Haryana had selected the lotus.

However, it is likely that this Jat vote would drop for the BJP. In fact, anger against the Hindutva party over bread-and-butter issues means that even the overall share would drop in this Lok Sabha election compared to 2019.

Governance issues

Former government clerk Rajinder Singh, a member of the Jat community in Hisar city, said that he had voted for the BJP in 2014 due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But he admitted that “the BJP has not fared well when it comes to governance issues”.

These issues were elaborated upon by several voters that Scroll spoke with.

Rajesh Chaubara, the general secretary of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India’s construction workers’ union referred to the Khattar government’s family ID programme – where a digitised electronic identification number is assigned to each family in Haryana and linked to the delivery of welfare schemes – and said that “it had created havoc with people’s lives”.

According to him, this had led to the exclusion of thousands of people of people from welfare schemes due to errors in data entry.

Hisar city-based retired government clerk Rajinder Singh, 67 and a "proud Jat". He had voted for the BJP in 2014 but will vote for Congress this time. | Vineet Bhalla

Om Parkash, a farmer from the Jat community from the Badala village in Hansi tehsil of Hisar, is an example of how the BJP is losing Jat votes.

“They have done some good things,” he said, speaking of the BJP, a part he had voted for earlier. “The government has rooted out corruption from public sector recruitment, for instance.”

He would, however, vote for the Congress in both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections this year. The reason for his switch: the Agnipath scheme, introduced by the Modi government in 2022. According to the scheme, the armed forces will now hire soldiers below commissioned officer ranks on four-year contracts, with only a fourth of the soldiers given permanent tenure.

“For most Indians from a lower socio-economic strata, serving in the armed forces was an aspiration,” he said. “Now, what will they do after serving for four years?”

Rajinder said that the scheme would hurt India’s national security.

“My son was trained for two and a half years when he joined the air force,” he said. “What service will an Agniveer render in just four years?,” he asked. “After four years, what passion or motivation will he have left when he returns?”

Like Parkash, Rajinder is a vote that the BJP has lost. He said he would switch his vote to the Congress this time for both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

Jat farmer leader Sandeep Siwach, at his home in the Dhandoor village in Hisar district, summed it up: “The common man is troubled by inflation, high fuel prices and depressed wages of workers. The BJP has not fulfilled its promises that it made to come to power.”

Sandeep Siwach, 42, is a Jat and the general secretary of the Pagdi Sambhaal Jatta Kisan Sangharsh Samiti in Haryana. Siwach is one of several farm leaders who have been voluntarily campaigning against the BJP. | Vineet Bhalla

Give another government a chance

What should really worry the Hindutva party, however, is that it’s not only the Jats who seem to be discontented with the BJP. In Faridabad city in southern Haryana, a real estate developer in his mid-30s from the Gujjar community said that after voting for the BJP in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in both 2014 and 2019, he would be switching to the Congress this time. The Gujjars are classified as a backward class and are seen to be a significant BJP vote bank.

“I’ve spent lakhs of rupees of my own money on [two-time standing MP and BJP candidate from Faridabad] Kishan Pal Gurjar’s campaigns in the past and I continue to have good relations with him,” he admitted. “However, the BJP has not developed Faridabad at all. It is time to give another government a chance.”

He refused to be identified due to the fear that making public his intention to vote against the BJP will spoil his business relations and lead to reprisals against his business by Gurjar.

He pointed to the bad situation of roads and water logging in the city as well as frequent power cuts as the biggest governance challenges in the city and said that the BJP has not done anything in those regards in spite of declaring Faridabad as one of the 98 cities across the country to be developed as a so-called smart city in 2017.

Second from left: Rajesh Chobara, 40. To his left: Azad Singh Miran, 42. To his left: Tejinder Singh, 52. All three trade unionists and members of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India, which is not part of the INDIA bloc, are non-Jats and have been voluntarily campaigning against the BJP in Haryana. | Vineet Bhalla

Response to popular movements

Several voters that Scroll spoke to also pointed out the BJP government’s violence in dealing with the farmers’ movement and other people’s protests in the state.

“Farmers were shot at,” Siwach said. “Lathhis were rained on sarpanches and angandwadi workers who went on strike.”

“Why were our farmers ill-treated and not allowed to enter Delhi?,” asked Rajinder in a heart-felt manner.

Azad Singh Miran, the President of the Revolutionary Marxist Party of India’s construction workers’ union and from the Miran village in Bhiwani, said that Haryana had seen protest actions by not only farmers but also sarpanches, ASHA and anganwadi workers over the last few years. However, the BJP government never engaged with or heard any one of them.

“This is the main difference between the BJP and previous state ruling parties,” he said. ”The Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal used to at least engage with protestors.”

Chartered Accountant Vikas Nain, a member of the Jat community who resides in Jind but works in Hisar, expressed confidence that all farmers would vote for the Congress. He said that farmers were themselves campaigning for the Congress, asking the public to vote for it. “They are doing this not to benefit the Congress, but to defeat the BJP,” he said.

Vikas Nain, 36, is a Jat and a member of the Indian National Congress. | Vineet Bhalla

There was no risk of the Jat vote getting divided this time, several voters told Scroll. This is because the Jats were only going to vote for the Congress and not other Jat-leaning parties such as the Jannayak Janta Party and the Indian National Lok Dal. Both these parties had lost the trust of Jat voters by joining hands with the BJP in the past.

Siwach said that in the last ten years, “Modi had conceded defeat only to farmers”, referring to the Modi government’s repeal of its farm laws in 2021. If a non-BJP government comes to power, he said, it would automatically work on farmers’ welfare because “they will know our strength and that we can protest against them too,” he said. “This is the effectiveness of mass movements.”

BJP-loyal constituents

Nain from Hisar admitted that the Congress had not fully capitalised on the sentiment against the BJP “because of the disconnect between the top party leadership and its ground-level workers”. Moreover, the BJP had cultivated a strong non-Jat vote bank and “could not be taken lightly,” he warned.

This was evident in conversations Scroll had with voters in other parts of the state who expressed confidence in the BJP’s chances in the election.

“The BJP is definitely winning the Kurukshetra seat,” said Om Prakash Saini, a visa agent and agriculturalist living in Kurukshetra city, in an assured manner.

Om Prakash Saini, 50, is a resident of Kurukshetra. He is a member of the Saini community that has been patronised by the BJP since 2014.

He pointed to the elevation of former Kurukshetra MP Nayab Singh Saini as the chief minister of Haryana by the BJP in March as a critical reason for his belief.

The Saini community makes up 2%-3% of the state’s population, but is numerically significant in the Kurukshetra constituency, where another member of the community, Raj Kumar Saini, had won on a BJP ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Om Prakash Saini gave the BJP credit for reducing corruption in the state and building good quality roads. According to him, the BJP had also given an impetus to online services throughout the country.

In Faridabad city, Inder Dayal Sharma, flanked by three friends, expressed support for the BJP, driven by elements of the party’s Hindutva ideology.

“We will elect anyone who stands on a BJP ticket from here because we must keep Modi as prime minister for the development of India,” he said.

According to Sharma, India’s standing across the world had enhanced due to Modi. He also claimed that the morale of the armed forces was high because under the Modi government, India has started exporting military equipment.

“Earlier, we had to import everything,” said Sharma, who served in the Indian Air Force.

Sharma dismissed the Congress as being full of “sanatana-virodhi” – Hinduism-opposed – elements. On the other hand, the BJP had built and developed temples across the country, he said.

Sharma and his friends are members of the Brahmin community that makes up around a tenth of Haryana’s population.

Inder Dayal Sharma, 67, served in the Indian Air Force and retired as Group Captain. Residing in Faridabad where he serves as President of a Resident Welfare Association, he is a fervent BJP supporter. | Vineet Bhalla