BJP Prospects in the Haryana Assembly Elections – an Overview

 

BJP has been traditionally weak in Haryana, and it has only started growing now (after the arrival of Modi in September 2013). The best that the BJP has managed on its own (without alliance with either Bansi Lal or Devi Lal/Om Prakash Chauthala) has never crossed single digits in number of seats, and never had more than 14% of the vote, until the arrival of Modi started changing the BJP in the middle of 2013. The consequences of the way the BJP neglected the organisation for alliances with Chauthala/Bansi Lal from the 80s is going to cost the BJP dearly. Also, they refused to build good leaders in the state. After the retirement of Fateh Chand Vij (who built the grassroot organisation in Haryana), the way the BJP treated Suraj Bhan was criminal. Sushma Swaraj, its best face in Haryana, never grew into a local leader. Whether it was due to the BJP bowing to the wishes of the clan Chauthala, or whether it was because of her own reluctance to stay in Haryana after a series of setbacks against Congress stalwarts like Chiranji Lal Sharma, the result remains the same.

The BJP organisation has been growing since September 2013, but the growth has been mainly due to lateral infusion of cadre and mid-level leaders from the INC, and particularly the INLD. Growth has not been structured, the newcomers have not been fully integrated into the party set up. `The Chinese maal’, as Cong. MP Deepinder Singh Hooda contemptuously called the defectors to BJP, remain of suspect quality. Chaos still prevails, and the BJP organisation, such as it is, is not in a position to take on the well oiled machinery of the Congress or the INLD fully. Both the Cong. and the INLD have superb organisations, and are more rooted, with good connections to the establishment on the ground.

The BJP is still called Bina Jat Party (Party Without Jats) for good reasons. It is all but impossible to win Haryana without Jats (some support, or at least a passive acquiescence), and the BJP has very little support among them. Capt. Abhimanyu Singh and Om Prakash Dhankar are the best bet for the BJP, but they are nowhere nearly a match for the established Jats of INLD/Cong. Only a few Cong. defectors like Chaudhary Birender Singh are really well established, but they have their own baggage. After the victory in LS 2014, the BJP has been getting a lot of cadres from the INLD and the Cong (many are giving up hope that the Chauthala clan will ever rise again – if INLD fails to get CM-giri now, expect the phenomenon to intensify, and by 2019, there will be no INLD left), but the loyalty and ideology of these characters remains to be tested. The man who changed his coat once will do it a second time. Many of them are just hedging their bets, trying to ride the Modi popularity. If the BJP fails to deliver on their ambitions, expect another churning.

Most vitally, the BJP has no good (or even decent) CM face, and this going to cost the BJP big time. People voted for Modi in LS 2014, and Modi is not in the race for the CM post of Haryana. Even today, both the Chauthala clan and Cong. leaders are far more popular as CM candidates than anyone the local BJP can throw into the ring. With senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj showing no inclination to become CM candidate in Haryana, the BJP’s leaders are all green and untested men. This is not to say that they are lacking in ability or charisma – just that they have far less popularity and visibility at the moment. The other interesting option would have been Gen. V K Singh – a man whose stature and reputation for incorruptibility is derived from other sources, and a man whose vote gathering ability may also transcend caste lines, since his USP is different from the regular crop of politicians. However, as far as the author nows, the BJP is not proposing to make him the CM candidate. Also, he is not well connected with the cadre, as he is a newcomer. His elevation to CM-candidacy just a few months after his induction may not go well with the old-timers whose CM ambitions he will have thwarted. The other option of the BJP to promote Congress defectors like Rao Inderjit Singh or Chaudhary Birender Singh may not go down well with the old timers.

One word about the collapse of the BJP-HJC alliance, which swept the Lok Sabha polls in May 2014, is in order. The BJP and the HJC share the same voter base, especially, the rural OBCs. It was the rural OBCs, particularly the Bishnois and a few Punjabi OBCs that constituted the mainstay of HJC. If this bunch dumps HJC, it will move to the BJP. Both the Congress and the INLD are now `Jat’ parties now, and BSP is a Dalit/urban poor party. It is the BJP and the HJC that are the OBC parties in Haryana. However, there is one catch. Bhajan Lal is still popular among the older OBC folk – he gave them social acceptability and upward mobility in a way no one else did. Also, the HJC still has some decent local faces in Hissar and Karnal districts. Their vote is unlikely to migrate en masse to the BJP. Further, at the time of writing, the HJC was considering going into an alliance with the Congress. If that happens, expect the BJP to be hurt badly. The Cong. organisation can take advantage of the sense of betrayal the Bishnois have been feeling when the BJP left their leader out in the cold. The break up of the alliance with the HJC will hit the BJP, no matter whether the HJC allies with the Congress or not.

Regional analysis of the BJP chances:
The BJP is reasonably strong in Ambala&Karnal regions, though I am unsure how strong they are in Kurukshetra (Kurukshetra region is dominated by Punjabi OBCs, and has its own dynamics, and Naveen Jindal of the Congress, though weakened, is still powerful here. Further, the BJP never had an organisation here – first, it was Om Prakash Jindal of the erstwhile HVP who held sway here, then it was the assorted regional satraps of the INLD like Prof. Kailasho Devi who ruled). In Ambala, the BJP organisation nurtured by Suraj Bhan should stand it in very good stead. The BJP had a 15-20% vote base in the Ambala and slightly lower vote base in Karnal, and with the current sentiment, the BJP should do well here. However, in Karnal, the break of alliance with the HJC might boomerang on the party. There is still a small bunch of Bhajan Lal loyalists (Bhajan Lal used to win LS polls from here, in the 90s, early 2000s). HJC vote is not more than 5-10%, but maybe enough to destroy the BJP chances, particularly in the rural seats like Israna, Assandh, etc. In the 25-30 seats of the region, the BJP had best hope to make some big gains.

The BJP is weak in the Central-Western Jat belt. Here is where BJP had better pray that people like Dhankar, or Chaudhary Birender Singh, or Sangwan, or Abhimanyu Singh deliver the party something. Otherwise, in this big region of some 30 seats, the BJP will hit close to a duck. This region will see Jats battling Jats, in mostly Cong. vs INLD battles. The BJP may put up a good fight in a number of constituencies due to higher visibility of its established cadre thanks to the victory in May 2014, or due to newly recruited defectors from Cong./INLD. Still, the BJP is not in a position to do very well in this region.

In the northwest, Hissar and Sirsa, the party has no organisation, and is based completely on candidate charisma. From the old days, the BJP had always left this region to the allies, and consequently, had no ground level cadre at all. Also, Hissar is the region where HJC has some influence, around Adampur, and the INLD is still strong in Sirsa (this is Chauthalas home district). So – in this region, the fights will be likely between the Congress and the INLD/HJC. Whatever the BJP gets here is bonus. Finally, by burning the bridges with the Bishnois, the BJP may just have shot itself in the foot.

In the southern belt (Ahirwali), except for the Mewat district (which is totally Muslim), the BJP is reasonably strong. The Gurgaon-Faridabad-Bhiwani districts should yield the BJP some rich gains. However, there is a catch. Plenty of people here are Congress defectors. While they may win seats, they are not savoury folk by any stretch of imagination. Keeping the Rao Inderjit Singhs happy is not easy, and what the BJP does to keep them in check is going to be interesting to see. Anyway, it is these 20 seats that will yield the best result to the BJP, most likely.

All in all, I am not at all certain that the BJP will form the government, or even be the biggest party. The BJP can easily win 20-25 seats. Anything more than 30 seats will be a bonus. Both the Cong. and the INLD are still in the race (and organisationally, are much better off than the BJP). Further, both INLD and Cong. have charismatic faces and excellent local leadership throughout the state, while the BJP will be hard pressed to find good recognisable candidates in half the seats.

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Fear of Modi

There is a terrible fear of Narendra Modi among opposition politicians and the guardians of Indian secularism. The fear of the liberals and secularists hardly needs an explanation – one merely needs to watch the nightly news to see the palpable terror. The explanation proferred by our liberal media is that he is a terrible threat to the secular character of the country. Under him, minority rights will be trampled, aver the ayotallahs of secularism. After all, is not Modi the diabolically clever RSS frontman who has butchered Muslim babies, bathed in their blood, and managed to escape unscathed, in despite of the best efforts of the finest secular legal luminaries? For ten years, our secular intelligentsia has hounded Modi, but to no avail. He has emerged, stronger and more powerful than ever, from each ordeal. Courts have found no evidence against him, and he has been acquitted by the supreme court of the country. The best weapons of his enemies have proved useless against him. And now the man whom they held in contempt, loathed, smeared, vilified and hounded is the Prime Minister. Consequently, the secular intelligentsia fear their actions being held against them, coming back to haunt them. Most of the journalists, telejournalists, and liberals of the page three variety are pathologically conjoined with the Cong-Communist combine. If the government under Modi were to turn hostile against them, their careers could be in jeopardy. And their financial masters won’t hesitate a second before sacrificing them to make their peace with the Modi government. So, their fear is understandable. But why do the opposition politicians fear him? After all, it is fairly commonplace for political opponents to attack each other’s policies, conduct, even character, and so forth. Also, Modi, in his latest election campaign, had shelved all contentious issues. There was no talk of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, no talk of a uniform civil code, or repealing Article 370 of the constitution. Why, then, is it that all opposition leaders fear him?

Before we answer the question of the fear of the opposition about Narendra Modi, it is perhaps imperative to examine the nature of the Indian political system.

Nature of the Political System in India
The political system in India, in most places and for most parties, is dependent on caste/community appeasement, and patronage of one, or more sections of the society. The patronage networks range from the top to the bottom. There are a lot of stakeholders in the patronage networks, and all of them have have something to gain by their political parties coming to power, and something to lose by others coming to power. Nevertheless, while the total number of people who are involved in these patronage networks is large, it is a tiny fraction of the total population. The vote appeal of most parties is based on a crass appeal to one segment of the population. A winning combination of castes and communities underpins the electoral success of the existing political parties. If the political parties win, the castes/communities can expect to profit. This is a cold blooded division of the society into for and against camps. Developmental politics is given lip service, but the accent is on offering freebies and niceties to the targeted section/s of the society. High quality basic services are given the go by, simply because it is impossible to offer basic services like water, roads, electricity, etc, efficiently, and effectively, in this system. The tax payer pays for the patronage doled out by the political parties to their favoured constituents. This is what a colleague of mine calls the C-System.

Before we go further in analysing the differing politics of Narendra Modi, let us take a quick look at the various big parties and their electoral appeal.

Congress – A combination of left liberal elite and privileged, minorities, underprivileged and poor. The vote of the latter, where it does not favour the Congress, is bought with money.

BSP – Dalit core, with some others (Brahmins, Muslims, etc), depending on the location and time.

SP, RJD – Yadavs and Muslims

INLD, RLD – Jats + rural poor.

The factor is repeated, with appropriate regional variations, for AGP, BJD, DMK, AIADMK, TDP, TRS and nearly every political party in existence in India today. This is not to say that other parties have not contributed to the development of the states and the country. They have. Developmental politics is just not the focus of their appeal.

In short, every party depends on a specific social combination for victory. In fact, even the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani had a very specific social combination to ensure BJP victory across the states. BJP of the 90s and 00s depended on Hindu middle classes in urban areas, and usually a combination of upper castes and OBCs in the rural regions. This underpinned the BJP caste combination, ensuring victory. In other words, Vajpayee BJP was playing by the same rules as the other parties.

However, the advent of Narendra Modi changes the entire frame of reference. His true claim to fame is not the caste, creed, community appeal of the others. His true USP is that of a no-nonsense man, who can ensure development without reference to the origin. He himself stands as a testimony to the ability of a simple tea vendor, a commoner to rise above all obstacles to become the true leader of India. He has an excellent track record of ensuring development in his state. In other words, from the networks of patronage, he changes the basis of Indian polity to development for all. This is the true reason why Narendra Modi is more popular than Mayawati among Dalits, more popular among Yadavs than Mulayam and Laloo, more popular among Jats than Hooda and Ajit Singh, more popular among Brahmins than Sushma Swaraj and C P Joshi. In one stroke, Narendra Modi threatens to make all other parties redundant or undercut their appeal massively, if he succeeds, even to an extent, in ushering in true development. Other BJP chief ministers like Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and Manohar Parrikar, have begun to mimic him, and are becoming popular in their states. They are blowing away the opposition and the Congress (and its clones) have no answer to this change of politics. Also, there is a massive number of people whose patronage is threatened by the rise of Modi style developmental politics. Consequently, he is the Yamadoot for the C-System, which cannot handle him. He has to be stopped, and cannot be allowed to succeed. If he succeeds, he will have inevitably changed the voting patterns across the country, sending most parties to the dustbin of history.

Modi’s politics, consequently, are far more threatening than the Hindutva politics of the BJP. Hindutva was the preoccupation of the middle classes, and the richer rural folk, which had a more or less secure livelihood. Hindutva politics never inspired, except on a transitory basis, the rural poor, who had more immediate worries than whether a temple was built in Ayodhya or Muslim personal law was changed. The only worry for the other parties about the BJP was Ram wave type massive mood shifts, with mass voting for BJP, due to emotive issues. But emotive issues hit a point of diminishing returns, and this is precisely what happened to the BJP. Thus, other parties could heave a sigh of relief that the Hindutva based voting had run its course. It never threatened on a long term, their mass appeal.

Consequently, the BJP can expect all other parties to gang up on it in the coming polls. By hook or crook, the Modi brand of developmental politics has to be stopped. This is the last ditch struggle of the C-System against the meritocratic system that Modi is championing. In coming days, we are going to see former secular foes forging alliances. In fact, even some of the BJP’s own current allies have fears about him making them redundant. They may jump ship, if they sense that the secular alliance will come to power. They are far more comfortable with the caste, creed, community mobilisation politics than the developmental politics. They are sticking with Modi because they have nowhere else to go now. But for the 2019 polls, it is going to be BJP (plus whatever allies remain faithful to it) versus everyone else.