New Delhi: Defying most of the exit polls, Haryana on Thursday threw up a hung Assembly, with the ruling BJP emerging as the single largest party with 40 seats, six short of the halfway mark needed to form the next government.
The Congress put up a resurgent performance, winning 31 seats in the 90-member Haryana Legislative Assembly. Debutant Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), led by Dushyant Chautala, emerged as the potential kingmaker with 10 seats. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP) won a seat each, with Independent candidates winning seven. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which contested 46 seats, was decimated and ended up with zero seats.
The split verdict triggered hectic political activity as Gopal Kanda of the HLP and an Independent MLA from Rania constituency boarded a chartered flight to Delhi for a meeting with BJP leadership.
The BJP's final tally came as a disappointment for a party which had won all 10 parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year and predicted that it will cross 75 seats this time in the legislative assembly. Surprisingly, eight of the 10 ministers fielded by the BJP lost.
In the Lok Sabha polls five months ago, the BJP cornered 58% of the vote share, which has now dropped to about 36.5%.
Most exit polls had predicted a comfortable victory for the BJP, which came to power for the first time on its own in Haryana in 2014.
Despite the loss of seats, the vote share is still about 3% more than what the party got in the 2014 assembly polls — a point stressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he spoke to party workers at the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
The vote share of the Congress was 28%, nearly eight percentage points more than what the party managed in the 2014 Assembly polls.
For the state's primary opposition party, hit by infighting that required a change in the state leadership a month before the October 21 election, the results gave it a shot at power if it can garner the support of the JJP.
In Delhi, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma claimed that the Haryana verdict is a “moral defeat for the BJP and what they stand for".
As early counting trends indicated that no party would win enough seats to form the government, senior Congress leader and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda sought support for his party. "This mandate is against the BJP. The JJP, INLD and others, including the Independents, should join hands with the Congress to keep the BJP at bay," he said in Rohtak.
Hooda alleged that the administration was putting pressure on the Independents at the behest of the BJP and not allowing them to move freely.
Commenting on the early trends, JJP's Chautala said, "This shows there was huge anti-incumbency against the (Manohar Lal) Khattar government."
But he remained non-committal on whom he will support. "It is too early to say anything. We will first summon a meeting of our MLAs, decide who would be our leader in the House and then take it further," he said. However, he noted that the people of Haryana want change.
State Congress chief Kumari Selja said the people of the state have rejected the BJP and are “ready to embrace a new dawn of justice".
In the 2014 Assembly elections, the BJP formed the government on its own, winning 47 seats. The Congress had won 17 seats, INLD 19, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) one, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) one and Independents five.
The BJP's strength in the House later rose to 48 after it won a bypoll.
Among the star candidates, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar retained his Karnal seat by a margin of 45,188 votes against his Congress rival Tarlochan Singh. Apart from the eight ministers, state BJP chief Subhash Barala also lost from Tohana constituency.
Chautala won by 47,452 votes against the sitting BJP MLA Prem Lata in Uchana Kalan. Prem Lata, the wife of former Union Minister Birender Singh, had earlier defeated Chautala.
Among the athletes fielded by the BJP, only former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh won from Pehowa. International wrestlers Babita Phogat (Dadri) and Yogeshwar Dutt (Baroda) lost.
TikTok star Sonali Phogat also lost to senior Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi in Adampur.
Senior cabinet minister Anil Vij won from Ambala Cantonment, which he has represented five times, defeating Independent candidate Chitra Sarwara by 20,165 votes.
The BJP failed to break the Congress strongholds of Deswali and the Jat-dominated belt comprising Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonipat districts. Of the 12 seats in the region, the Congress won 11.
The BJP held on to Jind and did well in some pockets of southern Haryana and in the Faridabad district.
Senior Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala lost to his BJP rival Leela Ram Gurjar by just 1,246 votes in Kaithal and Assembly Speaker Kanwar Pal defeated Akram Khan of the Congress by a margin of 16,373 votes in Jagadhri.
The Congress winners include Geeta Bhukkal, Raghubir Singh Kadian and Ajay Yadav's son Chiranjeev Rao. Congress candidate and former BCCI chief Ranbir Singh Mahendra lost in Badhra constituency to JJP's Naina Chautala.
Raj Kumar Saini, chief of Loktanter Suraksha Party and former BJP MP from Kurukshetra, lost to the Congress candidate in Gohana.
(With inputs from PTI)