For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the stakes in this week’s Assembly elections in Haryana are considerably lower than in the case of Maharashtra. Haryana is smaller both in terms of size and population, and by way of resources and revenue. And, the risks in a strategy of fighting the elections without a major ally are conceivably lower too. Unlike in Maharashtra, the BJP does not have to compete with a former ally for the same ideological space. While the break with its long-time ally, the Shiv Sena, in Maharashtra is certain to leave festering wounds that might not heal quickly, the end of the alliance with the Haryana Janhit Congress is of no great political import. The alliance in Haryana was more opportunistic in nature, forged as it was on the basis of vote-bank arithmetic than on the strength of a common, long-term ideological vision or political programme. The challenge for the BJP now is to build on its Lok Sabha success — when it projected itself as a viable alternative to the Congress at the national level — and emerge ahead of the others in an election fought more on local issues, caste affinities, and clan loyalties. Until now, the BJP had been content to ally with regional parties that traced their ideological roots to the Congress, such as the Indian National Lok Dal, the Haryana Vikas Party and the Haryana Janhit Congress. For the first time, the saffron party, boosted by its successes in the Lok Sabha election, seems to be in a position to make a strong pitch for power on its own in Haryana.
The politics of religion might not work in Haryana, but the BJP is banking not on the appeal of its Hindutva ideology but on the failure of the politics of caste and clan that seems to drive the INLD, the HJC and the Haryana Jan Chetna Party. Given the fragmented nature of the Haryana polity, where regional satraps hold sway in their own geographical fiefdoms, the BJP might have to factor in a situation where it falls short of a majority in the 90-member Assembly. Unlike in a Lok Sabha election, in the lower democratic tiers, caste and clan could play a more decisive role. The saffron party cannot afford to be as averse to a post-poll tie-up as it was to a pre-poll alliance with the HJC. The go-it-alone strategy that the BJP adopted in Maharashtra and Haryana is part of its long-term ambition to make greater inroads in States where it had been dependent on allies so far. But after the elections, if the results so require, the party might be more than willing to make the necessary compromises in the interests of immediate power. With the Congress still in disarray, and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala back in jail to serve the remainder of his sentence in a corruption case, the BJP might be the biggest beneficiary in the first-past-the-post electoral system.