BJP leader and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s ‘no entry’ sign for the 43-year-old erstwhile former Congressman Ashok Tanwar stands out in sharp contrast with the ruling party’s past electoral strategy in Haryana.

Within hours of Ashok Tanwar, the former chief of the Congress in Haryana resigning from his party’s primary membership, BJP leader and State Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar put up a ‘no entry’ sign, for the 43-year-old erstwhile Congressman.

“We will not give him [Ashok Tanwar] entry [into BJP],” asserted Mr. Khattar, speaking in his constituency Karnal last Saturday. “None with baggage will be welcomed into” the party, he added.

The remarks by Mr. Khattar, who was responding to a question on whether the BJP had invited the former Congress chief, stood out in sharp contrast with the ruling party’s past electoral strategy in Haryana.

In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had managed to rope in high profile leaders from the State: Chaudhary Birender Singh, who had served as a minister in the previous Congress State government headed by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and Rao Inderjeet Singh, a former Minister of State in the Congress-led UPA regime.

Even during the 2019 elections, the BJP managed to defeat former Haryana Chief Minister Hooda’s son, Deepender, by fielding a former Congress MP, Arvind Sharma, against the Hooda scion.

So, what ‘baggage’ did Mr. Khattar have in mind in putting up a barrier for Mr. Tanwar? Or is there another political strategy in play?

Perhaps the campaign strategies and schedules of the two parties could provide a clue.

For the October 21 vote, canvassing would have to end by 5 p.m. on October 19. That leaves the political parties with barely 10 days time to deploy their star campaigners.

For the BJP, undoubtedly Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be the single most important factor to try and repeat its performance in the Lok Sabha polls, when the party won all the 10 seats in the State.

But reports indicate that Mr. Modi may be able spare time only after Chinese President Xi Jingping concludes his visit to the country on October 12. Home Minister Amit Shah, of course, has started his campaign full swing where he has focussed on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and a promise to implement a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Haryana.

The Congress too has not deployed any star campaigner as yet but seems to have worked out a State-specific campaign strategy.

Despite the central Congress leadership slamming the government over the Article 370 decision, former Chief Minister Hooda has endorsed it, arguing that families from the State that send their sons to be soldiers in the Indian Army would welcome it.

Mr. Hooda has supported the NRC demand too. Instead, questions are being asked of the government led by Mr. Khattar on unemployment, law and order and especially crimes against women, farm sector issues and the lack of promised development.

Apart from keeping its campaign local, the Congress also hopes to gain from a family feud within Om Prakash Chautala’s family and the splitting up of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

Congress leaders argue that with the INLD, the third force in State politics, in a state of disarray, Haryana is likely to effectively witness a two-cornered fight between the grand old party and the ruling BJP.

In such a scenario — a two-way fight where local factors matter — a disgruntled Mr. Tanwar and his following among the Dalit community may help the BJP by preventing a consolidation of the Opposition votes. Or, in the BJP’s calculation, effecting a split in the votes for the Congress.

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