An aggravated Jat quota agitation was the last thing first-time Haryana chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, and his greenhorn ministers would have wanted. But that’s precisely what happened on Friday with arson and violence rocking Rohtak, a Congress stronghold and the epicentre of the agitation.
The ineptness of the debutant BJP government in the state and its inability to deal with the situation on the ground tactically can be gauged from the fact that the situation moved towards volatility with each passing day.
Despite Khattar holding parleys with community leaders in Chandigarh on Wednesday, assuring Jats he would double the 10% economically backward persons (EBP) quota for general castes to include them and four other castes, the protesters refused to retreat from their position.
When Khattar convened a meeting of the council of ministers on Thursday, many believed he would put the stamp of approval on his EBP quota assurance. However, much to everyone’s dismay the meeting ended with a discussion and review of the situation. “Had they approved it in the cabinet, it would have sent a strong message that they mean business,” a BJP leader said.
On Friday, Khattar held an all-party meet to work out a way to resolve the crisis and announced to bring a quota legislation in the assembly. But hours after that announcement, all hell broke loose in Rohtak where Jat protesters went on the rampage, torching houses and vehicles and pelting stones on paramiltary forces.
What went wrong?
The BJP guard seems to have been taken aback by this sudden groundswell which started from Rohtak and spread to several districts -- Sonepat, Jhajjar, Hisar, Jind, Bhiwani, Panipat and Kaithal.
To counter the upsurge, the party not only needed deft handling of the situation but also Jat leaders on the ground to convince the agitators.
Agriculture minister and Jat leader, Om Prakash Dhankar, who was the chief negotiator when the first round of protests took place at Mayyar in Hisar district, failed to persuade the Deswali Jats of Rohtak.
While finance minister, Capt Abhimanyu, another Jat leader in the BJP, remained rather restrained during the agitation, influential Jat leaders such as Union minister Birender Singh and Bhiwani-Mahendergarh MP Dharambir were nowhere to be seen.
“The BJP’s problem is that they hardly have any credible faces on the ground. CM Khattar, a Punjabi, has not been able to cultivate a local leadership in the districts. He does not seem to have much support from Jats in the party in such times of crisis,” a former Independent MLA said.
Failure to control a rabble-rouser MP
The fact that Khattar and the central leadership failed to rein in anti-Jat quota proponent BJP MP, Rajkumar Saini, has only compounded problems. Saini’s vitriolic diatribe against Jats on the reservation issue and his war of words with his own party leaders such as state cabinet minister Capt Abhimanyu has shown the saffron party in poor light.
Khattar tried to make amends on Friday during the all-party meeting when he called up Saini and asked him to tender a public apology in the larger interest of the state. Saini’s apology, which is yet to come, may be too little and too late to have a salutary effect on the situation.
The agitation that initially started from Hisar saw a brief abatement before picking up steam at Rohtak, the home turf of former Congress CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The Congress under Hooda had granted 10% special backward class quota to Jats and four other castes. But the agitation does not necessarily augur well for the Congress.
“It is a double-edged sword. The ferocity of Jats will lead to consolidation of other communities. And since it has become a leaderless agitation, it will be hard for the Congress leadership to persuade Jats to calm down. This kind of a consolidation of non-Jats happened during the 2014 assembly polls from which the BJP benefited immensely,” a party leader said.