Of these, Abhay Chautala of INLD, who recorded the only win for his party, has already rejected Hooda’s call to support the Congress.
WITH 40 seats out of 90, the BJP under ML Khattar is all set to stake claim to form the government in Haryana. And yet, the story of this Assembly elections was all about a resurgent Congress led by Bhupinder S Hooda and the newly formed Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) led by Dushyant Chautala. Both the Jat leaders left the BJP bruised on Thursday, and severely dented its poll call of “Abki baar 75 paar (Over 75 seats this time)” — the ruling party had gone to polls with 48 MLAs after winning Jind bypoll in January.
More embarrassing for the BJP was that barring Khattar and health minister Anil Vij, all their five Cabinet colleagues, their party’s state unit chief and a minister of state, lost badly to either Congress or JJP candidates.
The Congress claimed 31 seats, more than double its tally of 15 in 2014, and the JJP opened its account with 10 seats. The results come just five months after Haryana voted for the BJP in all the 10 Lok Sabha seats with huge margins.
Late Thursday, BJP sources told The Indian Express that Khattar had received the go-ahead from the party’s central leadership to stake claim since it had still emerged as the single largest party. “Talks are on. It is likely that Dushyant Chautala will support the BJP. The BJP will form the government,” a senior party leader told The Indian Express.
Thursday’s result, however, was a severe indictment of the BJP’s election strategy. Significantly, its “nationalist campaign” did not resonate at the ground level. While the BJP focussed its campaign on the abrogation of Article 370 in J&K and the Balakot air strikes, more than its governance in Haryana, Congress and JJP highlighted core state-specific issues.
“The BJP had nothing to show on what it had done for the people of Haryana, and it attempted to draw voters’ attention towards other issues. Be it farmers, traders, youth, employees — every section of society knows well that this government has done nothing on the ground,” Hooda said after the results came out.
The caste factor appeared to have played a key role with at least 13 Jat candidates winning across the state. In two Jat-dominated districts of Rohtak and Sonepat, which cover 10 Assembly segments, the Congress won seven seats, while the BJP could manage only three.
Among the BJP Jat leaders who lost was Finance Minister Capt Abhimanyu who was defeated by JJP’s Ram Kumar Gautam. The other big losses for the party were: education minister Rambilas Sharma, agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar, women and child development minister Kavita Jain, transport minister Krishan Panwar, and minister of state Krishan Kumar Bedi.
The party’s choice of candidates also backfired. Replacing 12 of its incumbent MLAs and depending on deserters from other parties failed to work —- 11 had switched over from INLD (seven lost, four won), and two from Congress (both won). It’s move to pitch star candidates, including top sportspersons, in Opposition strongholds flopped, too.
For instance, the BJP pitched tik-tok star Sonali Phogat in Adampur, a seat that former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s clan had not lost for the last five decades — Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi won by over 29,000 votes. The other star defeats were of Olympian wrestlers Yogeshwar Dutt and Babita Phogat, from the Jat-dominated areas of Baroda and Dadri, respectively — Phogat ended third.
The lone bright spot in this category was the victory of former hockey captain, Sandeep Singh, who defeated former finance minister Harmohinder Singh Chattha’s son and Congress candidate Mandeep Singh Chattha in Pehowa, a Punjabi Sikh-dominated constituency.
“We accept the people’s verdict. We need to introspect on where we went wrong,” said Capt Abhimanyu. With neither BJP nor Congress getting absolute majority, JJP’s Dushyant Chautala emerged as the “kingmaker”. JJP sources said Dushyant has called his party’s executive body’s meeting Friday in New Delhi to decide his course of action.
However, they said, he was not keen on supporting the Congress because it was during Hooda’s tenure as chief minister that his father Ajay Chautala and grandfather Om Prakash Chautala were convicted on charges of corruption in a teachers’ recruitment scam.
Nine others, including seven independent MLAs and one each from INLD and Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP), also hold the key to government formation.
Of these, Abhay Chautala of INLD, who recorded the only win for his party, has already rejected Hooda’s call to support the Congress. HLP’s Gopal Kanda, who was once the home minister under Hooda, is learnt to have spoken over the phone with Khattar and Amit Shah and is likely to support the BJP this time. A few other independent candidates, too, are in touch with the BJP leadership.