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In Haryana, Lok Sabha polls are just a dry run

The political landscape of Haryana is looking unprecedentedly cluttered and messy in the run-up to the voting this month

Firstpost print Edition

Former Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda nailed the election season with this remark: “The route to Chandigarh is via Delhi this time.” Polls on May 12 for the state’s 10 Lok Sabha seats are more about strategising and building positions for the Assembly elections, due later in the year. If the political landscape of Haryana is looking unprecedentedly cluttered and messy in the run-up to the voting this month, it is because the actions of the political players are dictated by this one thought.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) upset a carefully constructed applecart in 2014 to walk away with seven out of the ten seats and backed it up with a surprise solo victory in the Assembly elections, all the traditional equations got tossed out. No party has been as impacted by the BJP’s ascendancy as its one-time senior partner, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by Om Prakash Chautala. With Chautala and his elder son Ajay serving time for a teachers’ recruitment scam, and younger son Abhay managing the party, it was a matter of time before there was a split. So, now you have Ajay’s sons Dushyant and Digvijay at the helm of a new outfit called the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), which has commandeered most of the Jat vote bank of the parent INLD. The uncharitable say the INLD is the rump now.

The JJP, led by Dushyant, Lok Sabha MP from Hisar, has tied up with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Though they appear to be seeking comfort in each other’s arms, bot h the parties have still not figured out how to negotiate the deeply polarised Jats-versus -non-Jats situation.
If Dushyant’s JJP has attracted much of the INLD’s Jat support, the Hoodas of the Congress are equal if not stronger magnets for the community. Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son Deepender are contesting from two crucial seats of the Jat heartland.

It’s not for nothing that the JJP has fielded Digvijay Chautala to take on Hooda Senior from Sonepat. Deepender, a three-time MP from the Hooda family pocket borough Rohtak, is the current favourite for a fourth term. In fact, he was the only candidate from his party to have won a seat in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The fight for the 29% Jat votes will be mostly between the Congress and the JJP this time.

The BJP is staying true to its tried-and-tested formula of fielding mostly non-Jats like Brahmins or Punjabis, and has emerged as the champion of non-Jat communities during chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s rule. So, Khattar, a Punjabi from Karnal who has of late acquired the sobriquet of being ‘Bhajan Lal II’, is replicating his 2014 strategy of fielding mostly non-Jat candidates in Jat-dominated areas. Though many within the BJP were uneasy when the Khattar government in 2016 seemed to appease the Jat community during the reservation agitation when cases of arson and looting were withdrawn, most agree that the BJP rule has been instrumental in sharpening the polarisation between the two main blocks.

Says veteran CPI(M) leader Inderjeet Singh, “The four-and-a-half-year rule of Manohar Lal has been all about how non-Jat communities cornered plum posts and jobs. The Jats are irked.” This is why Hooda is telling members of the community that if they stick with him, he can “bring back the golden days when they called the shots in government”.

Upset with the BJP for withdrawing cases against Jat agitators, rebel BJP MP from Kurukshetra, Raj Kumar Saini, formed the Loktantra Suraksha Party to ‘end the dominance of the Jat community’. He has allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to bring together the Dalit and backward classes votes though he is not contesting the elections. Saini’s eyes are set on the Assembly polls and this is but a dry run for his experiment.

Chander Suta Dogra is a senior journalist

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