The political scenario in Haryana is heading to a juncture where caste complexities will play a decisive role in the outcome of the Assembly elections expected to be held around four months from now. The poll battle is largely going to be between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress with a beleaguered Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) fighting to remain relevant.

In the light of the Lok Sabha poll results in the state the Congress is upbeat having managed to win five of the ten seats. Its tally stood at zero in 2019. The party reportedly registered a lead in 46 of the total 90 Assembly constituencies during the Lok Sabha elections and the vote share of Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A) bloc saw a surge of 15 % while the BJP’s vote share saw a dip of 12 %.

Aware of the anti incumbency it has accumulated over the last decade since it has been in power in the state, the BJP went in for a change of guard in March this year replacing Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar with Nayab Singh Saini.

This is a survival strategy that the BJP has used in states like Gujarat and Uttarakhand in the past to tackle the anti incumbency. In Haryana the change had the imprint of the caste dynamics as Saini comes from the other backward caste (OBC) community while Khattar came from the Punjabi stock.

The OBCs account for around 35% of the electorate. Incidentally the community of Meo Muslims also falls in the OBC category.

Sources on the ground say that the BJP government under Saini is in the process of consolidating its support base among the backward castes alongside the efforts to rectify ‘mismanagement’ of the welfare schemes through ‘Samadhan Shivirs’.

The Congress under the leadership of Bhupinder Singh Hooda is largely relying on its support base among the Jat community that accounts for almost one fourth of the total electorate. It has also managed to get back the support of a large chunk of the Scheduled Castes that account for roughly 21 % of the electorate.

But at the same time it needs to be taken into account that the INLD under Abhay Chautala and the JJP under Dushyant Chautala too are Jat centric political forces.

The Jats had largely dominated the political spectrum in the state till 2014 when Khattar was anointed the chief minister by the BJP. The 2016 Jat reservation stir saw the community being isolated and pitted against the remaining 35 communities.

Haryana has a social set up of 36 Biradari (36 social communities). This caste polarisation also worked to the BJP’s advantage in 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

However, things changed to a large extent during the farmers’ movement against the now withdrawn controversial farm laws when farmers from other communities once again joined the Jat peasantry.

Coming back to the BJP’ overtures to the OBCs, Saini recently posted a tweet saying, “Some major announcements have been made in Haryana for the welfare of the OBC category and to give big benefits to the youth in government jobs.

“Today, in Haryana, under the reservation for backward classes in jobs, the annual income limit of creamy layer is Rs.6 lakh from all sources.

“After consultation with the Haryana State Backward Classes Commission, this creamy layer will now be increased to Rs.8 lakh per annum in state government jobs. On the lines of the Government of India, salary and income from agriculture will not be included in this income, which will benefit lakhs of people.”

Speaking at an OBC Morcha Sarv Samaj Samrasta Sammelan in Gurugram on June 23, he said that the increase in the annual income limit for creamy layer, similar to the central government, will provide significant benefits in employment for the OBC community.

He said that following the consideration of the Haryana State Backward Classes Commission, this increased limit will be implemented in state government jobs. Besides this, similar to the central government, income from salary and agriculture sources will not be included in this limit.

A state government spokesperson said the announcement is set to benefit lakhs of people belonging to the OBC community.

Saini also announced that the backlog of vacancies for Backward Class in group-A and B will be filled on priority basis, with preparations underway for a special recruitment drive.

He claimed that the OBC community is not being deprived of their rights and both the central and state governments are continuously implementing schemes to give full respect and recognition to the community.

The Chief Minister claimed that over the past ten years, the government has fulfilled its responsibility to benefit the OBC community at every level in Haryana.

He listed Prime Minister Modi's vision of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas’ and said that this has empowered people by connecting even the last person in society through various schemes.

Saini listed that the central government has taken significant steps towards the overall development of not only the OBC community but also the country's backward areas by declaring them aspirational districts, with Nuh district in Haryana included in the plan where continuous development schemes are being provided. Nuh has a consolidation of Meo Muslims.

The Chief Minister further shared that the Haryana government is completely supporting the education of OBC children by providing scholarships ranging from Rs. 12,000 to Rs. 20,000 to ensure quality education while also focusing on the skill development of the community. Modi has also allocated a budget of Rs. 13,000 crores under the Bhagwan Vishwakarma Scheme to provide training in 18 trades, he claimed.

Adding that under this scheme, welfare programs have been initiated to encourage the OBC community to pursue their traditional occupations, Saini said that during the training, financial assistance of Rs. 500 per day is being provided to the OBC trainees, and upon completing the course, a kit worth Rs.15,000 is also being given.

However, Hooda has taken on the Saini government on the issues of the OBCs as well as the SCs claiming that the BJP is suffering from ‘anti-SC and anti-OBC mentality’.

He has claimed that ever since the BJP came to power in the state, it has been continuously attacking the reservation and rights of Dalits and backward classes.

Hooda said that in this series, the BJP had reduced the creamy layer reservation for backward classes from Rs 8 lakh to Rs 6 lakh while also adding the agricultural and salary income to it.

He claimed that during the Congress tenure under him, while determining the income limit of creamy layer on 27.5.2013, the agricultural and salary income were excluded from it.

In an interaction with media persons on Monday, Hooda said that the BJP government’s action had led to lakhs of people from backward classes being deprived of the right to reservation.

“Now that the truth of BJP has been exposed in front of the backward classes, the BJP is talking about increasing this limit back to Rs 8 lakh. No government document has come out regarding this yet. The social media post made by the CMO regarding this has also been deleted,” Hooda said.

Pointing out that more than two lakh posts are lying vacant in the state, Hooda accused the BJP of deliberately not filling these posts as these permanent recruitments would mean giving reservation to the SCs and OBCs which it does not want.

He claimed that on the contrary, during the Congress tenure, many steps were taken to give proper benefits of reservation to all the castes of the backward classes. By creating separate categories of Group-A and Group-B, their reservation was increased from 10 % to 15 %.

Hooda posed the question, “Who will compensate lakhs of OBCs for the loss they have suffered over the years due to this decision (reducing creamy layer limit) of the BJP?

Stating that the BJP can never think about the welfare of Dalits and backward classes, Hooda said, “Everyone has come to know about the intentions and ideology of this government. That is why Dalits and backward classes together taught BJP a lesson in the Lok Sabha elections.

“To take revenge for that, the BJP is eliminating government jobs and the government education system from the state, so that the deprived classes can be deprived of education, reservation and jobs.”

There is a demand being raised on the caste census in Haryana. The BJP government is also on the back foot on the prevailing law and order scenario. Apart from Hooda, the newly elected Sirsa MP Kumari Selja has also been constantly attacking the Saini government on the issue.

She said on Tuesday that Saini has proved to be a complete failure in maintaining law and order as criminals are committing murders and are engaged in extortion without any fear.

She claimed that such incidents have come to light from time to time in various parts of the state including Gurugram, Faridabad, Rohtak, Gohana and Sampla in which not only threats were given, but heavy firing was also done to scare traders, businessmen and industrialists.

“The investigation agencies of the Haryana government have proved incompetent in uncovering the murder of INLD state president and former MLA Nafe Singh Rathi in Bahadurgarh,” Selja said.

She claimed that no common citizen of the state is safe, whether he is an industrialist, businessman, leader, or even a shopkeeper.

Quoting the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), she said that the increasing crime has led to safety concerns among the common people. Selja said that on an average three people are losing their lives in the state every day.

These murders are estimated to be much higher than the neighbouring states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. “While Haryana is considered one of the smaller states in the country, it is far ahead of other states in terms of crime,” Selja added.

The BJP on its part continues with its narrative around development. Saini recently accused the Congress leaders of engaging in petty politics and spreading lies and confusion by making false statements.

He claimed that the present state government has provided jobs to 132,000 youths in the past nine and a half years. He said a politically motivated ‘Bharti Roko’ gang is active in the state and is playing with the future of the residents, especially the youth.

He claimed that the leaders of the Opposition party neither care about the youth of the state nor about the poor widows, orphans, and the poor youth from denotified tribes and nomadic communities. However, such politicians deliberately make absurd statements to mislead the youth for their own political gain.

Saini has announced that 50,000 new recruitments will be done in the next two months. For this, the Haryana Staff Selection Commission will soon start the process. He claimed that the government will continue to make recruitments based solely on merit, without any ‘Parchi-Kharchi’.

Going beyond these allegations and counter allegations, observers on the ground say that the BJP is desperate to retain power and removing it is not going to be easy for the Congress.

The Congress continues to be marred by infighting. The recent departure of Kiran Chaudhary to the saffron camp along with her daughter Shruti following denial of ticket to the latter to contest the Lok Sabha made headlines.

In a veiled reference to Hooda, Kiran said that the Congress was being run like a ‘fiefdom’.

There have been other voices as well who have been saying that the Congress could have won more Lok Sabha seats if tickets were distributed more rationally. Selja too has been reported as saying that Shruti was wronged and could have been a winning candidate.

Top leaders of the Congress including Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge met the party leadership from Haryana on Wednesday in New Delhi where the latter were reportedly told by Rahul not to air their grievances in public.

After the meeting, Kharge tweeted, “BJP has betrayed the farmers and youth of Haryana. Many congratulations to all the newly elected MPs of the Congress party and every Congress worker. In the coming elections, we have to gain the trust of people of all thirty six communities.

“10 years of BJP rule has stopped the development of Haryana. Hundreds of recruitment exams have been rigged, farmers have been brutally tortured, lathi charges have been done, atrocities have been committed on Dalits, backward classes.

“Atrocities have been committed on women, crime has increased. Due to this misgovernance Haryana has strayed from the path of development. No new infrastructure has been built. Not even a single unit of electricity has been added to the power sector.

“And now Modi ji has made the failed Chief Minister of 9 years the Power Minister of the country. The future of the brave patriotic soldiers of Haryana has been tampered with by the Agneepath scheme.

“Modiji had promised to increase the MSP of the farmers by one and a half times in Haryana itself, but it has not been fulfilled till date.

“The ‘Beti Bachao’ scheme was also started in Haryana, but the Olympic Champions had to sit on the streets to demand their respect. What could be more unfortunate than this? We all have to unite and raise the voice of the people.”

At the same time it is also being felt by many that the I.N.D. I. A bloc should continue if the BJP is to be defeated. failing which parties like those from the Left and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would go alone and this would work to the advantage of the BJP.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist has come out saying that the I.N.D.I.A bloc can thwart the division of the anti BJP votes. It is being pointed out that the onus lies on the Congress to ensure that the arrangement continues.

Senior CP-M leader Inderjit Singh told this reporter, “There has to be a deliberate consolidation of anti BJP forces and the split of votes has to be prevented. Meanwhile, the alternate agenda needs to be taken to the people effectively.”

Meanwhile, Haryana’s former deputy CM minister and JJP leader Dushyant Chautala on Thursday said, “The alliance with the BJP has cost the party dearly. We also had to bear the anger of the farmers. There is no sense in having a truck with the BJP.”

The BJP–JJP alliance had come to an end in March this year. The JJP had won ten seats in the last Assembly polls. Despite campaigning on an anti BJP plank, it had entered into a post poll arrangement with the saffron party. The party has failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat till now.

The INLD leadership on the other hand is trying to revive the party that was once the political powerhouse in the state along with the Congress. Party leader Abhay Chautala has been attacking both the BJP and the Congress while also raising the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal issue.

On Tuesday, while citing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state, Abhay Chautala demanded dismissal of the Saini government and imposition of Governor Rule in the state.