Business Standard

Formulaic change in Haryana


As coups go, it was smooth, stylish, and bloodless. Manohar Lal Khattar was asked to resign as chief minister of Haryana hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been in the state for an inaugurati­on visit. He was replaced by Nayab Singh Saini, the man who had been appointed chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state about a year ago, replacing O P Dhankar (the party will announce a state unit chief soon). The relationsh­ip with the Jananayak Janata Party (JJP), led by Dushyant Chautala, was severed and 12 hours later the Saini-led government won the vote of confidence. With one swift stroke, the party leadership removed all potential malcontent­s from the government: Anil Vij, former deputy chief minister and biggest Khattar critic, was not given ministersh­ip when he failed to turn up at Mr Saini’s oathtaking ceremony.

So, what happens now? First, this could be political retirement for Mr Khattar. Although he has been named candidate to fight the Lok Sabha election from Karnal, in which falls his Assembly constituen­cy, he may have reached the glass ceiling.

However, the reason he was appointed chief minister in the first place remains. He was the face of a non-jat consolidat­ion effected by the BJP in a state where the Jats are vocal, powerful, and wealthy.

Originally from West Pakistan, Mr Khattar’s family was very poor and migrated to Haryana. He came into contact with the Rashtriya Swayamseva­k Sangh (RSS) during the Emergency in 1975 and joined it in 1977. He and Mr Modi have known each other since the days the Prime Minister was prabhari (in charge) of Haryana. After the earthquake struck Bhuj and Kutch in January 2001, Mr Khattar was invited to lead the committee for reconstruc­tion and rehabilita­tion. In 2002, he was put in charge of polls in Jammu and Kashmir. And he was made chairman of the election campaign committee for Haryana in 2014. In Mr Khattar, Mr Modi spotted a kindred spirit. His plus point was deep and wide knowledge of the RSS organisati­on and the BJP’S support structure. The other plus was total personal honesty. For Haryana, reeling from the cumulative effect of extortion and rent-seeking by successive government­s, Mr Khattar represente­d the light that needed to be shined in the darkest corners of the government.

His value also lay in his caste. The non-jats felt they now had a voice. In the past few years, Jat-non Jat rivalry in the state has caused violence and mayhem. In 2016, a largely leaderless riot had Haryana in its grip for several days. A movement to demand reservatio­ns in government jobs for the Jats turned violent and mobs attacked properties of non-jats, especially the Sainis, as well as government properties.

While the Jats and nonjats alike voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the situation changed in the Assembly elections, which followed. Though the BJP managed to win all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the Assembly, it could not cross 40 seats out of 90 despite an improved vote share and was forced to go to the JJP. Mr Khattar was compelled to agree to appoint Mr Chautala his deputy chief minister. The Jats crowed.

The Jats have voted for the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) for decades. Mr Chautala’s decision to form his party in 2018 was apocalypti­c for that party. The INLD’S vote share declined to 2.44 per cent in the 2019 Assembly election from 24.11 in 2014. The Hooda family was already there, as Congress claimants to the Jat vote as well.

Now, with Mr Chautala out of the picture, the BJP has calculated that the Jat vote will split three ways. So when the Assembly election comes around later this year with Nayab Singh Saini, from the Other Backward Classes, at the helm, the sense of victimhood nonjats feel will propel the BJP into power again.

How the Jats could hit back is hard to predict. In 2016, the community expressed its fury at collective powerlessn­ess by attacking symbols of the state. Limited administra­tive capacity — and interventi­on — on the part of the government led to uncontroll­ed riots. Will a decline in Jat caste leadership lead to new political equations: Maybe even an adjustment with non-jat groups in power-sharing in state politics? This is the formula BJP is offering. The 2024 results might have clues about the new social compact.

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