Haryana Diary: A tale of two elections

Political observers foresee the fall of the BJP in the state and massive churn thereafter

Manohar Lal Khattar and Nayab Singh Saini (photo: Getty Images)
Manohar Lal Khattar and Nayab Singh Saini (photo: Getty Images)

Dhirendra Awasthi

One of the first projects undertaken by Manohar Lal Khattar as chief minister of Haryana was the ‘revival and restoration’ of the mythical river Saraswati, said to have disappeared in Vedic times.

The state government established the Saraswati Heritage Development Board in 2015 amidst much fanfare. Crores were spent on publicising the project but nine years later, there is only a dirty stream to show for it.

Whatever happened, ask the people of Yamunanagar, Kurukshetra and Kaithal, three of the six districts through which this glorious river flows. Examples abound of the Khattar government’s inability to deliver on promises.

One such is the ‘family ID’ programme to weed out duplication in welfare schemes. Poor implementation and supervision led to half a million senior pensioners being struck off the list of beneficiaries. A million families were arbitrarily dropped from the list of ration-card holders.

Ram Prakash from Lakhan Majra complains that despite all efforts—and a few bribes—he failed to restore his wife’s name to the list of old-age pensioners. While thousands of poor widows found their names deleted from the BPL (below poverty line) list, a police department employee found his name on it.

Several instances came to light of the deceased continuing to receive pensions and foodgrains. Meanwhile, hundreds of people declared dead marched to the chief minister’s office and residence to prove otherwise. The former president of AAP in Haryana, Naveen Jaihind, claims that to his knowledge at least 15,000 senior citizens have been deprived of their pension because they are shown as ‘dead’. In just one village of Chhichhrana in Panipat, he found 70 such examples.

Inflation and unemployment are as much top of mind as the catastrophic scheme of hiring soldiers on contract. Gurmel Singh from Naraingarh claims that a majority of the youth from his village used to join the army earlier.

Over the past few years, however, they are all trying to migrate abroad, with their families selling off land to finance their trips. How was public money spent in a prosperous state like Haryana? Panchayats were starved of funds during the Khattar years.

With practically no ‘development’ work done, the present chief minister Nayab Singh Saini’s wife lost the ward councillor’s election from Ambala, aggrieved citizens point out. Businessmen and transporters say they have not recovered since the pandemic.

Nearly 40 per cent of companies in Panipat engaged in exporting fine rice, dairy products, cotton, tobacco, spices and buffalo meat have shut down. Many permanent employees have been retrenched and replaced by casual workers. One such ‘helper’ admitted that he is employed for hardly 20 days a month and barely earns Rs 10,000–12,000.

PM Modi, while addressing an election rally in Sonipat referred to the well-known jalebis of Maaturam in Gohana, each large jalebi weighing 300 grams. On counting day, he declared, the jalebis of Maaturam would fall short of the demand, hinting at wild celebrations following a BJP victory. This didn’t go down well.

Maaturam’s grandson, Raman, recalled that police had fired 40 rounds at agitating farmers from the vicinity of the shop. Extortion by criminals patronised by political parties is rampant. Raman doesn’t know a single trader or businessman in Gohana and around who has not received extortion calls. Official complaints are futile.

Law and order under BJP rule has collapsed, says Raman. Khattar’s allegation of bogus voting in favour of the Congress in Rohtak and Sirsa Lok Sabha constituencies are being mockingly described as an exit poll for Haryana. The state had delivered all 10 Lok Sabha seats to the BJP in the last two elections but strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency prompted the high command to order Khattar to step down as CM after nine-and-a-half years.

While the mood in the Congress is upbeat after polling in the sixth phase on 25 May, Khattar claims BJP will win all 10 seats. Lok Sabha results in Haryana are generally a pointer to the state assembly elections that follow (in October this year). In 2019 when the BJP did win all 10 Lok Sabha seats, it declared its tally in assembly elections would be “75 paar”. They finally won just 40 seats, with the Congress bagging 31.

Congress leaders later admitted that if they had read the mood of the electorate better, they would have fought the election more spiritedly. The BJP formed the government in the state after it joined hands with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), a breakaway faction of Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

The JJP is headed by Chautala’s elder son, Ajay. In March this year, the BJP–JJP alliance broke down when Khattar stepped down, having nominated his protégé Nayab Singh Saini as his successor. Three of the five Independent MLAs who supported the BJP withdrew their support after the Lok Sabha elections were announced.

Another setback was when two prominent Punjabi community leaders— former Panipat City MLA Rohita Rewri and former deputy mayor of Karnal Manoj Wadhwa—recently joined the Congress. Now the BJP is banking entirely on rebel JJP legislators, who might support them if the governor (in an unlikely scenario) asks Saini to prove his majority.

In case Lok Sabha results in Haryana are not up to the BJP’s expectations, more MLAs are likely to jump ship and bring the curtains down on the state government even before October. If Khattar (70) himself fails to win the Lok Sabha seat from Karnal, it will be yet another blow to the BJP.

Khattar was engaged in a close contest against the Haryana Youth Congress chief Divyanshu Budhiraja (30). Both hail from the Punjabi community and the choice of Budhiraja was strategically designed to prevent Punjabi voters from rallying around Khattar.

Present chief minister Nayab Singh Saini is trying his luck in a byelection from the Karnal assembly constituency. It is widely believed that Saini, unlike Khattar, will sail through. Political observers predict the imminent fall of the BJP government in the state after 4 June and a massive churn thereafter. Several punters claim that the BJP and Congress would share the honours in Haryana.

Others believe that the score would be 8–2 in favour of the Congress. The political future of Haryana’s Devi Lal family also hinges on these results. With several members of the clan contesting from Kurukshetra (Abhay Singh Chautala) and the two ‘bahus’—Naina Chautala (Dushyant Chautala’s mother) and Sunaina Chautala (wife of Abhay Chautala’s cousin)—pitted against each other as INLD and JJP candidates, all eyes are on them.  

If they don’t spring a surprise, it will signal the eclipse of Devi Lal’s legacy and reduce the family’s importance in the state’s politics.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines