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.