Business Standard

Behind jettisonin­g the JJP

By cutting ties with Dushyant Chautala and replacing Khattar with Saini as CM, the BJP looks to carefully navigate caste dynamics not only of Haryana but also the Hindi heartland,

- writes NITIN KUMAR

A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) abruptly parted its way with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), its leader Dushyant Chautala made a bold proclamati­on. During a rally in Hisar on March 13, he declared that the JJP would hold the “Key” – the party’s symbol — to the Vidhan Sabha. He emphasised that the “Key” would find its way to the Lok Sabha, as well.

The 35-year-old Jat leader confidentl­y asserted that he would not merely play the role of a kingmaker this time around, but would himself ascend to the throne. “We will secure victory in over 50 Assembly seats and march triumphant­ly to Chandigarh,” Chautala announced from Hisar, his stronghold.

While Chautala delegated the task of determinin­g the number of seats the JJP should contest in the upcoming elections to his father Ajay Chautala and other party members, political observers in Haryana speculate that the self-proclaimed future “king” might be at risk of losing his own Assembly seat (Uchana Kalan in Jind, near Hisar) due to anti-incumbency.

“His core voter base remains disillusio­ned with him for aligning with the Bjp-led coalition in 2014 and for his lack of support for farmers during their agitation for minimum support price,” observed Kushal Pal, principal of Indira Gandhi National College-ladwa (Kurukshetr­a) and former state coordinato­r, Lokniti.

This concern is not without merit: In the four elections Chautala contested since his political debut in 2014 — two Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019, and two Assembly elections in 2014 and 2019 — he has tasted defeat twice, in the 2014 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Political analysts suggest that the BJPJJP split, coupled with the transition of leadership from Manohar Lal Khattar to Nayab Singh Saini, underscore­s the BJP’S strategy of achieving multiple objectives with a single move. They argue that this manoeuvre allows the BJP to gauge Chautala’s lingering political influence, mitigate anti-incumbency sentiment towards the Khattar leadership, and potentiall­y alter the caste dynamics, not only within Haryana but across the nation.

If the JJP performs well and secures Jat votes, the BJP could potentiall­y reintegrat­e it through negotiatio­ns based on the JJP’S performanc­e across assemblies. Conversely, if the JJP contests the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls independen­tly, it will tap into the anti-bjp Jat vote bank, which both Congress and Chautala’s estranged uncle Abhay Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal are eyeing. This fragmentat­ion of Opposition votes is seen as advantageo­us for the BJP, opined Vijay Chauhan, assistant professor and head of the Department of Political Science, Maharana Pratap National College, Mullana.

“In 2014, the BJP heavily polarised Jats and non-jats. However, in 2019, the BJP shifted its focus to developmen­t issues, neglecting caste management. By presenting a Punjabi CM face in the 2019 elections, the BJP failed to win full support of other backward classes (OBC), which led to it falling short of majority. This time, looking to avoid a repetition, the appointmen­t of an OBC chief minister signals a strategic shift,” said Chauhan, adding, “the move also aligns with the BJP’S national agenda to attract OBCS.”

By appointing Khattar, an upper-caste Punjabi, as CM, the BJP sought to uphold its non-jat stance. However, Punjabis constitute less than 5 per cent of Haryana’s population and less than 2 per cent of India’s population. By replacing a Punjabi after approximat­ely a decade with a Saini, an OBC, the BJP has offered representa­tion to a segment representi­ng around 50 per cent of not just Haryana’s population but also the nation’s.

The Saini caste, traditiona­lly associated with the gardening profession (Maali), is not only one of the largest OBC groups in the Hindi heartland states, but also stands out as one of the most politicall­y organised peasant communitie­s in India, alongside the Jats, Yadavs, and Kurmis. The Mali community, in addition to the Saini title, also adopts surnames like Maurya, Kushwaha, Koeri, Kachhi, Shakya, and Murao. They constitute between 6 and 10 per cent of the population in states, such as Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh.

“Bringing Saini into the fold is primarily a political statement aimed at the caste group across various states. It’s intended to signal to them that the BJP acknowledg­es their presence and political influence,” said Mirza Asmer Beg, professor, the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University.

Moreover, the BJP plans to leverage Saini for its outreach programmes in all states with a significan­t Saini population. This is akin to Mohan Yadav’s participat­ion in numerous Yadav gatherings in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana since his appointmen­t as CM of Madhya Pradesh in December.

The BJP’S state leadership, however, is sceptical of the benefits of snapping ties with Chautala, and appointing Saini the CM. “Saini appointmen­t’s potential impact may be limited with only six months left until the Assembly elections, and Chautala’s ability to break into Jat votes is doubtful as the community is already upset with him,” a senior Haryana BJP leader said.

A JJP leader concurred that the Jats may throw their weight behind the Congress. “Last elections, the Jats strategica­lly voted for candidates of the JJP and the Congress. This time, they realise that backing the Congress alone could propel them back to power in the state,” he asserted.

He noted that Congress secured 31 of 90 seats in the previous elections; the JJP bagged 10. If all JJP seats shift to the Congress, it would only require an additional 5 seats to form the government.

On the other hand, to address potential discontent among Punjabis, the BJP has fielded Khattar to contest the Lok Sabha polls from Karnal. Senior party leaders have also suggested that Khattar could be considered for a Union Cabinet portfolio should the BJP retain power for the third straight term.

 ?? FILEPHOTO: PTI ?? By replacing Manohar Lal Khattar (left) with Nayab Singh Saini, an OBC, as chief minister, the BJP has offered representa­tion to a segment representi­ng around 50 per cent of not just Haryana’s population but also the nation’s
FILEPHOTO: PTI By replacing Manohar Lal Khattar (left) with Nayab Singh Saini, an OBC, as chief minister, the BJP has offered representa­tion to a segment representi­ng around 50 per cent of not just Haryana’s population but also the nation’s

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