A neck-and-neck contest panned out between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress in the Haryana Assembly elections on Thursday, when votes were counted.

The BJP failed to win big as predicted by several exit polls, securing only 40 seats in the 90-member Assembly. It is six seats short of a majority, and is expected to seek help from Independent candidates or smaller parties such as the Haryana Lokhit Party and the Indian National Lok Dal, both of which won one constituency.

The BJP had a target of winning at least 75 seats and fielded candidates in all 90 seats. In Karnal, Manohar Lal Khattar – who is the state’s first non-Jat chief minister in 18 years – beat Congress’s Tarlochan Singh, a former chairperson of the state Minority Commission, by 41,950 votes. Khattar is expected to stay in power and form the government for a second term if the BJP is able to cross the majority marj. Earlier in the evening, some reports said he had approached Governor SN Arya to stake claim to form government.

Several top ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party government lost their seats. The list included five-time MLA Ram Bilas Sharma in Mahendragarh, Cabinet minister Captain Abhimanyu in Narnaund, state BJP chief Subhash Barala in Tohana, and state ministers Kavita Jain, in Sonipat, Manish Grover in Rohtak, Karan Dev in Radaur, Krishan Lal Panwar in Israna and Om Prakash Dhankar in Badli. Speaker Kanwar Pal, Health Minister Anil Vij and Public Health Minister Banwari Lal were among the few big names in the ruling party who triumphed.

The BJP had fielded a number of star athletes – wrestler and three-time Commonwealth Games medallist Babita Phogat from Dadri, Olympic medallist and wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt from Baroda constituency in Sonipat district, and former India men’s hockey team captain Sandeep Singh from the town of Pehowa in Kurukshetra district. Only Singh emerged victorious on Thursday.

The saffron party had also fielded TikTok celebrity Sonali Phogat against the Congress’s Kuldeep Bishnoi in his family bastion Adampur in Hisar district. Phogat lost by a margin of nearly 30,000 votes.

Several people who had changed their political allegiance in the last minute also dented the BJP’s chances of getting a majority, PTI reported.

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Four Haryana election takeaways: BJP was supposed to have a cakewalk. What happened?

The other major players in Haryana were the Congress, which secured 31 seats, and the Jannayak Janta Party, which won 10 seats in its very first state election. The Jannayak Janta Party’s founder Dushyant Chautala may turn out to be the kingmaker in the state as both the BJP and the Congress are vying for its support.

Former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda registered the highest victory margin in the elections. He defeated the BJP’s Satish Nandal in Gari Sampla Kiloi constituency by 58,213 votes. The lowest margin was recorded in Sirsa, where Haryana Lokhit Party’s Gopal Kanda defeated Independent candidate Gokul Setia by 602 votes.

Bhupinder Singh Hooda was the Congress’ face during the campaign. As the results trickled in, he rued that the party might have done better if he had more time. Some reports claimed that the former chief minister and his son Deepinder Hooda were in touch with Dushyant Chautala. Earlier in the day, BS Hooda had urged the Jannayak Janta Party, the Indian National Lok Dal and Independent candidates to unite with the Congress to form a strong government.

Meanwhile, Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala was among those who faced unexpected defeats. He lost to the BJP’s Leela Ram by 1,246 votes in Kaithal. Surjewala, a prominent Jat leader, had won the Assembly elections in 2014 and 2009 from Kaithal. This was the year’s second big upset for the Congress spokesperson. He had come third in an Assembly bye-election in Jind in February.

The Congress’ campaign was also hampered by factional fights.

Seat shares

In the 2014 Assembly elections, 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.

While the BJP’s seat share reduced this year, its vote share went from 33.2% in 2014 to 36.5% this year. The Congress’ vote share went up from 20.6% to 28.1%.

The Indian National Lok Dal, which won 19 seats in 2014, with a vote share of 24.1%, was decimated. The party won only one seat – Abhay Singh Chautala in Ellenabad – and its vote share dropped to an abysmal 2.45%.

Follow our coverage of the Haryana results here.

Unprecedented win or moral defeat?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the Haryana result as a victory of their development agenda, but the Opposition Congress said it was a “moral defeat” for the ruling party.

“I thank the people of Haryana for blessing us,” Modi said in his first reaction after the verdict. “We will continue to work with the same zeal and dedication for the state’s progress.” He later addressed party workers at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, where he thanked the people of Haryana and Maharashtra for reposing their faith in chief ministers Manohar Lal Khattar and Devendra Fadnavis.

Though the party did not get a majority in Haryana, it was an unprecedented win, Modi said. “When governments often lose power after five years, it is remarkable that BJP dispensations in Maharashtra and Haryana have been given a fresh mandate for five years,” the prime minister added.

BJP President Amit Shah indicated that the party would stake claim to form the government in Haryana. “The [Manohar Lal] Khattar government in Haryana has made every effort for people’s welfare under the central leadership of [Narendra] Modi,” Shah said. “I thank people for making the BJP the single-largest party and giving it another opportunity to serve them.”

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, however, said the BJP’s claims of victory did not hold water as there was a significant drop in its vote share merely months after the Lok Sabha elections. “We accept the verdict of the people with humility,” Sharma told reporters. “This verdict is a moral defeat for the BJP and what they stand for.”

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, who is in jail in connection with the INX Media case, said “quiet patriotism will defeat muscular nationalism” when he was asked about the election results.

The Left parties also criticised the BJP. “The results, not just in these two states but also in bye-polls in Gujarat, Bihar and Kerala show that communal jingoism does not work at a time when the people are in misery over lack of jobs and economic slowdown,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury.

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