Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from Haryana on October 21 as the state’s 1.83-crore strong electorate voted for representatives to its 90-seat Assembly. The violence in parts of the state occurred even though more than 75,000 security personnel were deployed for the polls.

Incidents of stone-pelting and violence were reported from the districts of Nuh, Kaithal, Rohtak, and Mehwat. In Kaithal, the police had to baton charge members of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress after they clashed. Seven people were reportedly wounded in incidents of violence.

Election day also saw political leaders making gimmicky entries to polling booths. Jannayak Janta Party leader Dushyant Chautala arrived on a tractor to cast his vote in Sirsa. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar opted to take a train from Chandigarh to his hometown Karnal, and then rode a bicycle to the election booth.

The state witnessed a turnout of more than 65% but the city of Gurugram in the National Capital Region saw only 52.36% of the electorate exercise their franchise.

Heavyweights and star contestants

Ahead of the polls, political analysts talked of a close fight between the BJP, the Congress, and the Jannayak Janta Party, which was formed in December 2018 after a dispute in the Indian National Lok Dal of the Chautalas.

The ruling BJP, with a target of winning at least 75 seats, fielded candidates in all 90 seats. In Karnal, Manohar Lal Khattar – who is the state’s first non-Jat chief minister in 18 years – faced Congress’s Tarlochan Singh, a former chairperson of the state Minority Commission.

Former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was the Congress’s face during the campaign. He contested the elections from Garhi Sampla-Kiloi against BJP’s Satish Nandal, a former Indian National Lok Dal leader. In Kaithal district, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala went up against BJP’s Leela Ram Gurjar.

The Jannayak Janta Party contested 87 seats, with Dushyant Chautala facing BJP MLA Prem Lata, who defeated him in the last elections, in Hisar. Both Dushyant Chautala and his brother Digvijay Chautala had lost the Lok Sabha polls in May to the saffron party. The party’s troubles continued as its fledgling alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party collapsed within a month after a dispute over seat-sharing.

The BJP also fielded a number of star athletes. Wrestler and three-time Commonwealth Games medallist Babita Phogat contested from Dadri while Olympic medallist and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt was fielded from Baroda constituency in Sonipat district. Former India men’s hockey team captain Sandeep Singh was the BJP candidate from the town of Pehowa in Kurukshetra district.

The saffron party also fielded TikTok celebrity Sonali Phogat against the Congress’s Kuldeep Bishnoi in his family bastion Adampur in Hisar district.

The campaign

While the Congress called out the ruling party on matters such as economic slowdown, rising unemployment, and agrarian distress, the BJP focused on questions of national security. It criticised the Opposition party’s inability to make strong statements on nationalism, and its position on the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status.

At a public meeting in the city of Gohana in Sonipat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged Pakistan had used the Congress’s remarks to its advantage. In Tigaon, near the city of Faridabad, Union Home Minister Amit Shah accused the Opposition party of being unable to make up its mind on nationalism because of vote-bank politics.

The elections were a test of the abilities of Pradesh Congress Committee President Kumari Selja, who replaced Ashok Tanwar earlier in the year. Selja was brought in to end infighting in the state unit. She led the party’s campaign along with Hooda.

The Gandhis mostly stayed away from campaigning, with Rahul Gandhi addressing only two rallies. Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi was expected to campaign in Mahendragarh district but opted out of it.

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Exit Polls

Most exit polls predicted a saffron surge in the state. The BJP is expected to win 52 to 63 of the 90 seats while the Congress was projected to win only 15 to 19 seats. The Indian National Lok Dal, which won 19 seats last time, is staring at a wipeout. It is expected to win a maximum of one seat. The Jannayak Janta Party is predicted to secure around five to nine seats.

The Times Now poll projected a BJP win with 71 seats, with 11 seats for the Congress, and no seats for the Lok Dal. The NewsX exit poll predicted the BJP would secure 75 to 80 seats, and the Congress between nine and 12 constituencies.

Only the India Today-Axis My India exit poll predicted a hung Assembly. It projected 30 to 42 seats for the Congress, and 32 to 44 seats for the saffron party.

Five years ago, the BJP had secured a majority by winning 47 seats while its coalition partner Shiromani Akali Dal bagged one constituency. The Congress won 15 constituencies.

Controversies galore

Factional fights in the Congress came out in the open with Ashok Tanwar’s resignation from the party weeks before the election. Tanwar, who was not given a ticket, alleged that people who had worked against the party’s interests in the last five years were given preference. The former state Congress chief claimed that the party had become “Hooda Congress”.

Meanwhile, Manohar Lal Khattar made an offensive comment about Sonia Gandhi a week before the elections, comparing her to a dead mouse.

The Shiv Sena sparked a row by giving a ticket to Naveen Dalal, who allegedly shot at former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid last year. At present, Dalal is facing three criminal cases, including the Khalid case.

On voting day, BJP MLA Bakshish Singh Virk made news after Rahul Gandhi tweeted a 39-second video in which the legislator is heard saying that votes will go to the ruling party irrespective of the button pressed.

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