Drifting apart in Haryana

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his deputy Dushyant Chautala during a press conference in Chandigarh.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

Lately, there have been signs of a rift between the ruling coalition partners in Haryana — the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). With both the parties fighting against each other in the upcoming Assembly elections in Rajasthan, the vulnerability of the alliance has yet again come to the fore.

In Haryana, the Assembly elections are due towards the end of 2024. As the BJP and the JJP would like to retain power, their strategy seems to be to consolidate their respective vote banks by politically attacking each other.

Haryana saw a violent pro-Jat quota stir in 2016, which pitted the Jats against the non-Jats such as Sainis, Banias, Brahmins, Yadavs, and Punjabis. Inter-community relations became visibly strained. Since then, the politics surrounding Jats versus non-Jats have been at play in the State’s political spectrum.

The Jats account for about 25% of Haryana’s population. The JJP, the breakaway outfit of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), draws its support largely from the agrarian class, primarily the Jats. On the other hand, the non-Jats are traditionally seen as the BJP’s core supporters. The BJP also has a strong presence in urban areas. The JJP fought the 2019 Assembly elections on the anti-BJP plank. But after the BJP failed to get a majority in the 90-member Haryana Assembly, it forged an alliance with the JJP to form the government. The BJP won 40 seats in the Assembly polls while the JJP won 10. The alliance was not forged on any ideological ground.

Now, amid the uncertainty over the continuance of this alliance, both the parties, which are expected to face anti-incumbency, are attempting to consolidate their respective vote banks ahead of the Assembly and parliamentary polls. Leaders of these parties have been publicly taking digs at each other. This has led to speculation that whenever the alliance members decide to part ways, their positions on political issues or situations would be clear during the electoral battle. And this will help them counter each other and garner support from their respective vote banks.

A couple of months ago, Deputy Chief Minister and JJP leader Dushyant Chautala raised questions surrounding the handling of communal violence in parts of southern Haryana, which exposed the differences between his party and the BJP. He asserted that the organisers (Vishva Hindu Parishad) failed to share a proper estimate of the turnout during the Brijmandal Jalabhishek Yatra on July 31 in Nuh and led to violence. Chief Minister Manohar Lal disagreed with his comments.

These remarks, among others, are apparently being made against the backdrop of consolidation of their respective vote banks based on community-caste equations as well as on religion. While the BJP is expected to consolidate non-Jat votes in its favour, the JJP seems to be making attempts to reclaim the party’s core support base, which could have been eroded following the year-long farmers’ agitation against the now repealed farm laws. As the BJP faced the wrath of the farmers, the JJP, its ally, also suffered the anger of the agitation.

In June this year, the BJP’s Haryana affairs in-charge, Biplab Kumar Debtook, took a dig at the JJP saying it did no favour to the BJP by aligning with it. Mr. Chautala responded saying the alliance was formed with “mutual consent”. Subsequently, the JJP also announced its decision to contest all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the State. In July, former BJP State president, O.P. Dhankar, said that Haryana’s ruling coalition was forged to form the government in 2019, and not to contest polls.

Now, with the BJP and JJP fielding candidates against each other in Rajasthan, their face-off is all set to escalate, further fuelling speculation over the continuance of their coalition in Haryana. As of now, the BJP and JJP candidates are expected to fight each other on at least three seats for which they have declared their respective candidates.

With the Assembly election a year away in Haryana, both the ruling parties are making efforts to secure their vote banks to make a comeback even as they are likely to face the anti-incumbency factor. Interestingly, against the backdrop of the emergence of ‘polarisation politics’ lately in the State, if the parties succeed in getting the caste equations right in Haryana, where the election is multi-cornered and politics revolves around the coalition of castes, the electoral fight could go right down to the wire.

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