Talk about baptism by fire. Just three weeks after Manohar Lal Khattar (60) was handpicked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as chief minister of Haryana, his government was panned for botching up the operation to catch controversial religious leader Rampal from his ashram. Before they could smoke him out of hiding, the ham-handed policemen assaulted the journalists covering the standoff without any provocation. The government drew flak for “mishandling” the operation. This was the last thing the cautious Khattar, a low-profile first-time MLA with RSS background, needed at the outset, even before he had his administrative team in position or completed his first month in office.
A slow beginning
The first BJP government in Haryana, which rode into power with the promise of “clean, transparent governance”, completed a month on November 25. It is a tad too early to pass any judgment whether it will be able to live up to the expectations of the people or not, one thing can be said with certainty: it has not hit the ground running.
The saffron party, which has been catapulted to the role of the party of governance from being a fringe player in the state for decades, was expected to be brimming with new ideas and the civil secretariat buzzing with activity. While there is celebratory air about the place, the sure-footedness and big-ticket announcements expected from a new regime are missing. The government has reversed some decisions of the previous Congress government, though. On Tuesday, the state cabinet decided to roll back the state employees’ retirement age to 58 from 60.
The allocation of portfolios to the ministers and the bureaucratic reshuffle – a ritual every time a new regime takes over – were done at a leisurely pace. The posting orders were issued in phases over the past one month, bringing work to a near standstill. The officers, used to the easygoing pace of working of the previous Congress regime, just sat around twiddling their thumbs. And, the political appointments have a clear saffron stamp.
The sluggish start notwithstanding, there have been some plusses too, indicating the “intent”, more than giving an insight into the style of functioning, of the new regime. To begin with, Khattar’s choice of his top aide and some key postings in finance, taxation, transport, industry and social sectors have been received well. Also, there have been no hints of any political malice in officials posting, so far.
The officers considered close to the previous Congress regime or those who remained sidelined in the past nine-and-a-half years have been given or retained in key slots, implying that the CM and his advisers did their homework before picking the team. “The process may have taken some time, but the CM was extra cautious. There is no point in making wrong choices and regretting them later,” said an adviser.
While there has been no outside-the-box idea, so far, the government did demonstrate the ability to take tough decisions by doing away with the system of interviews in police selections to ensure transparency. However, a similar move for class-3 and -4 jobs won’t be out of place in other departments. It stopped there and took no further similar decisions. As another welcome change is the CM’s penchant for simplicity, austere lifestyle and punctuality, his personality, not performance, was the talking point in the corridors of power. Unlike the previous regime, there is also wider consultation, reflecting a non-interfering style of governance. Khattar has been holding closed-door meetings with his cabinet colleagues, seeking their views on important decisions and appointments. But then, these are still very early days.