Congress worried over erosion of traditional Dalit vote base in Haryana

The Dalits form around 22% of total voters, second after nearly 29% of Jats.
Former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda (File Photo | PTI)
Former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda (File Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: Is Congress’s caste arithmetic going haywire in Haryana? Congress insiders believe the party is facing a tough fight in Haryana as its traditional vote base of Dalits is apparently miffed with it. They believe that there is a sharp Jat and non-Jat divide and infighting among the party leadership is adding to their woes. 

Ten seats in Haryana are going to polls on May 12 and are expected to see a multiparty fight on many seats following the split in the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). Besides the Congress and INLD, major parties in the fray are the ruling BJP and Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Experts believe that the split of INLD could see the shifting of Jat votes towards the Congress and JJP.

Explaining the voter arithmetic, a senior Congress leader said, “The polarization of non-Jats has left the party worried and the reason being shifting of its traditional Dalit voters — Valmikis, Dhanaks — towards the BJP is adding to the problem.” 

“The division in the Jat and non-Jat voters sharpened after violence in February 2016, when Jats held agitation seeking reservation,” the party leader said. Realising the challenge, the Congress has fielded former state chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda from Sonipat. Also in the fray is Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar from Sirsa. 

Another Haryana Congress leader said the differences between Hooda and Tanwar is in the open for all to see and this has damaged the party’s prospects. Congress has failed to nourish its traditional voters. In 2014, the BJP won seven Lok Sabha seats in Haryana followed by INLD winning two and Congress was restricted to one seat.  

The Dalits form around 22% of total voters, second after nearly 29% of Jats. There are around 15% Brahmins and Punjabis spread mainly around Karnal and Kurukshetra followed by around 4-5% Ahirs (Yadav) and around 5% Muslims.

Learning from 2014 LS election and the Assembly polls, the BJP has been banking on the consolidation of non-Jat votes. The fact was reflected in the ticket distribution with the party giving tickets to Brahmins and Punjabis in Jat-dominated Rohtak and Sonipat. 

The party tested waters in the Jind bypolls, under Sonipat constituency, by fielding a Punjabi, Krishan Middha, and won. The JJP candidate came second while Congress leader RS Surjewala, a Jat, came third. 

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