Caste likely to play an important role in Haryana Elections

Haryana goes to polls on 21stof October along with Maharashtra. The results will be out on 24thof October. The main contenders have announced candidates and the election fervor is catching up in the state. In the 2019 general elections, BJP swept the state bagging all the 10 seats. Congress led by Hooda and Lok Dal led by Chautala couldn’t even open their account. The state which was once a Congress bastion is set to become a fortress of the BJP.

BJP is contesting the elections under the leadership of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Congress is struggling to put up a united front ridden by factionalism. Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has been hit by a split with both sons of Chautala fighting it out in the open. Outfits like AAP and BSP are also trying to make a mark.

A recent opinion poll shows BJP winning 78 out of 90 seats. In the general elections party was leading in 79 seats. A disclaimer opinion polls in the past have gone wrong. Even an internal poll of Congress, video of which has gone viral, shows that party could at max end up with 14 seats. BJP hopes to ride home banking on the popularity of PM Modi and CM Khattar. The nation-wide support for bold decisions of the central government are also helping its cause.

Along with the factors discussed above, caste is also likely to play an important role in the outcome. A majority of Indians prefer political leaders from their own caste, tribe or religion, according to a 2018 study by Aziz Premji University and CSDS. In Haryana,Jats have dominated the political spectrum for decades and hold the keys to power.

The state has had Jat CM for 60% and non-Jat CM for 40% of the time. Chaudhary Devi Lal and Bansi Lal are considered as the tallest Jat leaders. Bhajan Lal is considered as the tallest non-Jat leader. The state politics has traditionally been a battle between the Congress and the INLD for the vote of the dominant peasant caste, the Jats,

Jats account for 27% of population. 37 out of 90 seats are dominated by Jats. Western Haryana has a high concentration of Jats.BJP has always been seen as a non-Jat party in the state. In 2014 it won a simple majority despite winning only 9 of the 37 Jat dominated seats. Lok Dal received 42% of Jat support, Congress 24% and BJP only 17%.

Captain Abhimanyu, a young Jat leader, was considered as a top contender for the CM post. However, the partychose a Punjabi Khatri, RSS pracharak and old Modi aide, Khattar as its CM nominee. Khatris account for 8% of the population. This irked the Jat community.

The party was successful in consolidating the non-Jat voters in its favour which led to its unprecedented victory. Most of the other groups are antagonistic to the powerful Jats. BJP was able to extend its base beyond its traditional vote bank of Brahmins and Baniyas. It was able to bring in its fold Sikh, Gujjars, Yadavs, OBCs and Dalits. BJP received 47% of Brahmin votes, 55% of other upper caste votes, 40% of OBC votes and 36% of Sikh votes.

Dalits which constitute for one-fifth of the electorate and had traditionally voted for the Congressalso warmed up to BJP in 2014 state elections. Party received 20% of the community votes helped by the support announced by Dera Sachcha Sauda.

After a violent Jat agitation for inclusion in OBCs, the Khattar government in May 2016 provided for 10% reservations to Jats. However, this was struck down by the courts. Khattar was criticized for poor handling of the agitation which further widened the division between Jats and non-Jats in the state.

In 2019 general elections, things changed for the better for BJP. The split in INLD and decline in Hooda’s popularity due to corruption cases disillusioned a section of the Jat voters. Jats who were used to being in power were feeling left out in the new dispensation. The 10% reservation to economically weaker sections by the central government before the polls placated a section of Jats and brought them closer to the party.

In the general elections, 52% of Jatsvoted for the BJP, an increase of 20% compared to 2014.The party also received 51% of Scheduled Caste votes in line with Dalit votes shifting to the BJP nationally helped by the weakening of the BSP. Now BJP has created a social bloc including Jats as well as non-Jats, which looks formidable and unbeatable. Except for the minorities, it has secured majority support from all other caste / community groups.

The party has successfully replicated its strategy of social engineering in states like Maharashtra in Haryana. The strategy involves ignoring / alienating the dominant caste, consolidating the other caste groups against the influential caste and then forcing the dominant caste to come to its fold.

The Jats have hopped onto the BJP bandwagon in Haryana in recent general elections. It remains to be seen whether this trend holds good in state elections. If Jats support BJP in state elections as well, making them invincible, they would expect to have a large share in the power pie. This is likely to increase the complications for BJP as it will have to manage the various conflicting aspirations. BJP starts as favourites in this battle…..

Image Credit: Economic Times

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