The Bharatiya Janata Party is set to win all 10 parliamentary seats in Haryana, a first for the party which had only a limited presence in the state before 2014.
Though the Congress was second on nine seats, its candidates lost by embarrassingly huge margins – over six lakh votes each in Karnal and Faridabad. From nine seats in 2009, the grand old party is down to zero in Haryana.
The party’s most seasoned state leader, former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, lost to the BJP’s Ramesh Chander Kaushik by over 1.6 lakh votes in Sonipat. The Congress even lost its Rohtak stronghold. Bhupinder Hooda won Rohtak four times between 1991 and 2004. When he resigned the seat to become chief minister in 2005, his son Deepender Singh Hooda won it in a bye-election. The younger Hooda held it for three terms until 2019, when he lost by a narrow margin of about 2,600 votes.
The BJP failed to win a single seat in Haryana in 2009 but took seven in 2014. Of the other three, it had left two to its allies. In 2019, the BJP’s candidates took early leads and the gap only widened during the day.
The Congress came second everywhere except in Hisar, where the incumbent MP, Dushyant Chautala, was the BJP’s closest challenger. He belongs to the Jannayak Janata Party, a breakaway faction of the state’s main regional party, the Indian National Lok Dal.
Until 2014, the Lok Dal and the Congress were the main parties in Haryana. In that year’s general election, the Lok Dal won Hisar and Sirsa and stood second on three seats.
Now, the BJP has won Sirsa for the first time and all of Lok Dal candidates may lose their deposits. A candidate’s election deposit is forfeited if they secure less than a sixth of the total valid votes – a singular embarrassment for a major party.
The BJP’s sweep represents a massive change for Haryana, where the party’s wins were few and far between until the previous election. It also signals the waning influence of the prosperous and influential farming community of Jats that ruled the state for around four decades until 2014. The Hooda family and the Chautala family, which set up and led the Lok Dal, are both Jat.
They lost despite being contestants in areas where large sections of the population are Jat. Moreover, seven of the nine Assembly segments that constitute Sonipat Lok Sabha seat are held by parties that sit in Opposition in the BJP-led Assembly.
In spite of winning seven Lok Sabha seats as well as the Assembly election in 2014, the BJP’s leadership in Haryana faltered on several occasions in the past five years – there were spells of violence and rioting, a stalking case involving the son of a BJP leader and unemployment remained a concern.
Yet, a combination of factors helped fortify the BJP’s position in Haryana in time for the 2019 election.
A key factor was the February 2016 agitation by the Jats for reservation in education and government jobs that turned violent. The Jats are about a quarter of Haryana’s population and form one of a brotherhood of 36 communities. During the violence, non-Jat communities in Rohtak and Sonipat were attacked by the protestors. The BJP used this to rally all “non-Jats” to its side, said Kushal Pal, a political scientist based in Karnal and state coordinator of the Lokniti Programme for Comparative Democracy, a research initiative on elections.
Many voters were also convinced that the rioting was engineered by the Hoodas, he added.
Then, a few months before the election, the BJP government made over 18,000 appointments in its lower ranks. This helped the party win over voters in rural Haryana, said Pal.
Finally, the Opposition was divided. There was talk of a conflict between Hooda and the state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar. A family feud split the Lok Dal in December 2018. One faction formed the Jannayak Janata Party, the other remained the Indian National Lok Dal, but neither stayed in the reckoning for any seat. Political analysts believed this fragmentation would put too many candidates from Jat-dominated parties in the fray and “divide the community’s vote”, leading to the BJP slipping through.
However, save for Rohtak, vote shares and victory margins do not bear this out. The BJP’s candidates have won over 50% of the votes in nine constituencies. In Hisar, the Jannayak Janata Party’s Dushyant Chautala was placed second but with just over 24% of the vote. His brother and the party’s candidate from Sonipat, Digvijay Chautala, and their cousin, Lok Dal candidate for Kurukshetra Arjun Chautala, are both set to lose their deposits.
“I think the voters who did not want the BJP decided the Congress was their best bet,” said Pal. “And those who were loyal to the Chautalas, shifted to the [Jannayak Janata Party]. The Lok Dal clearly does not have a base left.”
He added that both parties will have to regroup and consider changes before the Assembly election later this year.
Deepender Hooda was the only Opposition candidate to even lead in the trends for a few hours. Pal argued it is his personal appeal more than his Jat identity or Congress membership that helped him retain some support in Rohtak. “He is soft-spoken, calm and well-liked,” said Pal.
Moreover, residents of Rohtak city attribute much of its development to the Hoodas.
Still, the seat that has always been held by the Jats, including nine times by the Hooda family, slipped out of their hands. Pal believes the Congress also paid for failing to ally with local groups such as the Jannayak Janata Party. After the Congress, the largest number of votes went to Jannayak Janata Party. Without another major Jat party in the fray, some of those votes might have gone to Hooda and helped close the gap.
The BJP’s candidate in Rohtak was Arvind Sharma. Before joining the party in March, he had contested for the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and as an independent. But Deepender Hooda was really up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the BJP’s state vice president, Arvind Yadav, had pointed out during the campaign.
The situation was much the same in Hisar, where the BJP fielded a newcomer – Brijendra Singh, former bureaucrat and son of Union Minister Chaudhary Birender Singh – to take on Dushyant Chautala in a region dominated by his family.
Yadav had expected the air strike on Pakistan after the Pulwama attack in February, goodwill garnered by the state government and Modi’s appeal in the Hindu-majority area to see the BJP’s candidates through in Haryana. He was right.