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BJP falls short of six places while Haryana launches the suspended mount; JJP's Dushyant Chautala holds the key

New Delhi: Challenging most exit polls, Haryana organized a suspended Assembly on Thursday, with the ruling BJP emerging as the largest single party, with 40 seats, six fewer than half needed to form the next government.

Congress had a resurgent performance, winning 31 seats in the 90-member Haryana Legislative Assembly. Newcomer Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), led by Dushyant Chautala, has emerged as the potential 10-seat king-king. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Haryana Lokhit Party (HLP) won one seat each, with independent candidates winning seven. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which disputed 46 seats, was decimated and ended with zero seats.

The split verdict triggered a stirring political activity as HLP's Gopal Kanda and an independent Rania district MLA boarded a charter flight to Delhi for a meeting with the BJP leadership.

The BJP's final count was disappointing for a party that had won all 10 parliamentary seats in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year and predicted it will cross 75 seats this time in the legislature. Surprisingly, eight of the 10 BJP field ministers lost.

In the Lok Sabha polls five months ago, the BJP cornered 58% of the vote, which has now fallen to about 36.5%.

Most polls predicted a comfortable victory for the BJP, which first came to power in Haryana in 2014.

Despite the loss of seats, the number of votes is still about 3% higher than the party obtained in the 2014 assembly polls – a point emphasized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he spoke with party workers at BJP headquarters in Delhi.

Congressional turnout was 28 percent, nearly eight percentage points higher than the party achieved in the 2014 Assembly polls.

For the state's primary opposition party, hit by internal disputes that demanded a change in state leadership a month before the October 21 elections, the results gave JJP support a chance to win.

In Delhi, Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said the Haryana verdict is a "moral defeat for the BJP and what they stand for".

Because early counting trends indicated that no party would win enough seats to form the government, Congress leader and former Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda sought support for his party. "This mandate is against the BJP. The JJP, INLD and others, including independents, must join Congress to keep the BJP at bay," he said in Rohtak.

Hooda claimed that the government was pushing the independents at the behest of the BJP and not allowing them to move freely.

Commenting on initial trends, JJP's Chautala said: "This shows that there was a huge anti-commission against the Khattar (Manohar Lal) government."

But he has not committed to whom he will support. "It's too early to say anything. First we will convene a meeting of our ALMs, decide who our leader in the House would be, and then move on," he said. However, he noted that the people of Haryana want to change.

State Congress chief Kumari Selja said the state people 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 won 17 seats, INLD 19, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) one, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) one and Independent five.

Later, BJP's strength in the House rose to 48 after winning a prize.

Among the top candidates, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar held his seat in Karnal by a margin of 45,188 votes against his congressional rival Tarlochan Singh. In addition to the eight ministers, Subhash Barala, head of the state BJP, also lost from Tohana's constituency.

Chautala won by 47,452 votes against BJP MLA Prem Lata in Uchana Kalan. Prem Lata, wife of former Union Minister Birender Singh, had previously defeated Chautala.

Among the BJP-trained athletes, only former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh beat Pehowa. International fighters Babita Phogat (Dadri) and Yogeshwar Dutt (Baroda) lost.

TikTok star Sonali Phogat also lost to Congressional leader Kuldeep Bishnoi in Adampur.

Cabinet minister Anil Vij beat Ambala Cantonment, which he represented five times, beating independent candidate Chitra Sarwara by 20,165 votes.

The BJP failed to breach the fortresses of the Deswali Congress and the Jat-dominated belt comprising Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonipat districts. Of the 12 seats in the region, Congress has won 11.

The BJP kept Jind and did well in some pockets of southern Haryana and 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 President Kanwar Pal defeated Akram Khan of Congress by a margin of 16,373 votes in Jagadhri.

Congress winners include Geeta Bhukkal, Raghubir Singh Kadian and Ajay Yadav's son Chiranjeev Rao. Congressional candidate and former BCCI chief Ranbir Singh Mahendra lost in JJP's Naina Chautala's Badhra constituency.

Raj Kumar Saini, head of the Loktanter Suraksha Party and former Kurukshetra BJP MP, lost to the congressional candidate in Gohana.

(With PTI entries)

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