Haryana’s Punjabi chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar finds himself isolated not just within his party but in his state where the top seat was occupied by Jats for nearly 40 years
By Vipin Pubby in Chandigarh
After the BJP romped home for the first time ever in Haryana in 2014, the question that was uppermost in everyone’s mind was who would be the chief minister. The party had not projected anyone as the CM candidate with Modi, fresh from the general election victory a few months ago, the sole face on posters all over the state.
Although among the victors were several old-timers, including at least two who had remained ministers in previous coalition governments, the post went to a dark horse, first-time MLA and RSS pracharak Manohar Lal Khattar. He was a close aide of Modi when he headed the Haryana unit of the party in the 1990s.
It was the first time that a Punjabi, a community with the second largest population after the Jats, had occupied the post of chief minister in Haryana. The top seat in the state had been occupied by Jats for nearly 40 years ever since it was formed in 1966. Only three of its 10 CMs so far were non-Jats, including Bhajan Lal, who had perfected the craft of politics by taking different sections along. Jat leaders from different parties have been holding on to the CM’s post continuously for the last two decades despite the fact that they constitute just about 29 percent of the state’s population.
VICTIM OF POLITICS
Jat chief ministers were obviously partial to their kinsmen and not only recruited them in the government and in the police in large numbers but also gave them key positions. Thus, the advent of a non-Jat CM and that too from a party with little grassroots support among Jats gave them a feeling of the ground shifting from under their feet.
Not only was Khattar inexperienced, he has been having more than his share of dissidence from his own party. They had been snapping at him at every given opportunity and were of little help in dealing with the Jat agitation. The rookie chief minister, who had been depending on signals from the center, also faced another unenviable situation. Leaders of the two major political parties, former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress and Abhay Singh Chautala of the INLD (who is also the leader of the opposition) in the Haryana assembly, were Jats.
There was also a lot of politics at play here. The surfacing of an audio tape in which a close aide of Hooda is heard encouraging riots by Jats has exposed the tacit support which the Congress as well as Chautala’s INLD may have lent to the agitators.
Even Jat leaders from the BJP did nothing to help the government. These included Capt Abhimanyu and OP Dhankar. Worse, even Union minister Birender Singh, a Jat Congress leader, who had crossed over to the BJP before the elections, preferred to keep aloof. Birender Singh, who never hid his ambition to be the chief minister when he was with the Congress and even later on, is now the tallest Jat leader in the BJP.
Another BJP leader, Rajkumar Saini, an MP who belongs to the OBC, added fuel to fire when he publicly declared that his community would oppose any move to grant reservation to Jats under the OBC category. The existing communities under the OBC quota are opposed to the inclusion of Jats as they would eat into a huge chunk of the quota.
The unprecedented mayhem witnessed over a week in Haryana, which was emerging as one of the most progressive states of the country, has set the clock back by several years. At least 30 people were killed, including some non-Jats and over 200 were seriously injured before the army controlled the situation.
While the economic cost is estimated between Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore, it is the social cost caused by the rift between Jats and non-Jats in the state which would be unmeasurable. Ironically, the unfortunate incidents took place when the state was preparing to hold its prestigious “Happening Haryana” global investors meet in the first fortnight of March. The chief minister had recently toured China and Japan and had been holding meetings with investors across the country. He had even conducted a road show in Mumbai during the Make in India conference to attract investment to Haryana. But due to the large-scale arson involving public and private property, it would be a Herculean task for him and his government to attract investment and industry to the state.
The knives are now out for Khattar after the mishandling of this agitation. This is his second major failure after the mishandling of the Baba Rampal ashram incident in 2014 where six persons were killed after the Baba’s supporters fortified his ashram near Hisar. The central leadership of the party has declared that it continues to repose faith in Khattar but obviously, the party would find him too much of a burden if any such incident takes place again.