The Bhartiya Janata Party is relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, and it’s successful social engineering of non-Jat Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to offset the anti-incumbency of the nine-year rule of the Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana that goes to polls in the sixth phase on May 25.

Although the BJP replaced Khattar with Nayab Singh Saini as the new CM in March, the change of guard was too close to the Lok Sabha elections. This change, along with the BJP’s social engineering in Haryana, wherein it has consolidated the support of other communities, including Sainis, Ahir, Lodha, Meo, Gosami, Lohars, Kumhars, et al., against the dominant Jats, who form about 27 per cent of the population, is the saffron party’s winning formula in the State. However, the formula is confronted this time against Jats consolidation around the Congress. The OBCs are also angry with the State government, especially the deposed CM Manohar Lal Khattar.

After having been replaced, Khattar is contesting from the safe Karnal Lok Sabha seat against Youth Congress leader Devyanshu Budhiraja. The BJP won Karnal in the last two polls. In the 2019 elections, the party won by a staggering almost six lakh votes.

Nafees Singh, a shop owner near Karna Lake on the outskirts of Karnal city, said, “In 2019, I voted for Modi. But this time, I have not decided.” When asked why, Singh, a ‘Nai (barber) by caste, said, “The Khattar government did not perform.”

More than 60 km away in Rasina village of Kaithal district, which is part of the Kurukshetra Lok Sabha seat, Rampal Singh, a carpenter by profession, echoed a similar sentiment. “For the first time after two Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019, I’m seeing that even among the BJP voters, there is a section of people who are not at ease with the party and state government’s performance,” he said.

“The voters are silent this time, and that’s why it’s difficult to assess the outcome. The situation will become more clear near the polling,” Singh added.

The BJP had swept all the ten seats in 2019, improving its electoral show from 2014 when it managed to win seven constituencies.

Shailendra Singh, a Rodh by caste and resident of Ramgarh village in Karnal, expressed his unhappiness with the Khattar regime but also questioned the Congress’s performance in the years that it was in power. “At least, Modi is committed to the welfare of people and the development of the country,” said the farmer.

The owner of the “Fauzi Hukka” shop in the Jat-dominated Meham area of Rohtaq district, Deepak, said that he would vote for Modi. Ashish Dikshit, a 22-year-old in the hospitality business, was equally vocal in his support for Modi as he smoked hukka at the shop.

Dikshit was of the view that the Khattar government, through a fair and transparent recruitment process, gave Group C and Group D jobs to all sections of society. When asked whether OBCs and Dalits too benefited, he replied in the affirmative.

To overcome the anti-incumbency factor, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in his campaign speech in Karnal on Monday, said Modi has a “special attachment” and “love” for Haryana. Shah also took on former Congress Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda. Attacking Hooda, who has become a symbol of the Jat domination, is seen as an outreach towards the OBCs. 

Besides anti-incumbency, the BJP is also confronting the farmers’ ire since Haryana was the second state after Punjab that contributed the most and lost the lives of 30 people during the farmers’ agitation against the farm laws and demand for a legal guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Price rises and unemployment are other subjects that people are talking about.

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