Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar went to Garnala village in Ambala on January 5 to meet the family of commando Gursewak Singh who was killed in Pathankot terror attack.
Before his cavalcade entered the village, he asked the driver to stop and remove the official flag from the car. A kind gesture, indeed. “CM saab chhoti se chhoti baat ka bahut khayal rakhte hain (CM saab is very particular about small things),” said a close aide. But, barely six weeks later when Jats took to the streets to press their long-standing demand for reservation in jobs and educational institutes before running amok, his government showed no sign of meticulousness.
Sluggish response, cohesiveness lacking
The state authorities did not read the situation well. They were sluggish in their response, letting things get out of hand. The worst-ever violence that followed in eight districts of Haryana and left 30 people dead not only tarred the state’s image, but also reduced its social fabric to tatters.
Another instance of the state machinery being completely at sea when faced with a challenging situation was the havoc wreaked by a few hours of heavy rains in Gurgaon - showcased by successive governments as the Millennium City - that caused massive traffic jams. As thousands of commuters were left stranded on national highway-8, the district administration, which seemed to have no plan to deal with such situations, collapsed.
Only after the rains subsided and the state authorities got their act together that normalcy was restored. And all of this happened in the city whose renaming - a non-issue for most city dwellers - as Gurugram was among the top priorities of the present government in its second year.
Both these episodes, coupled with flak faced for its Hindutva push, have not helped the image of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government that wants to micromanage everything, but has been falling short on major tests. It did not cover itself in glory when on Gau Seva Aayog chairman Bhani Ram Mangla’s direction biryani samples were collected in Mewat just days ahead of Bakr Eid following complaints about beef being served in the food item.
RSS agenda eclipsed governance reforms
The first-ever BJP government’s focus on Hindutva agenda, including beef ban, cow conservation, search for the lost Saraswati river and saffronisation of education, has overshadowed its reforms push. Khattar, who has the image of a “clean politician”, has been making efforts to curb corruption, ensure fairness in government recruitment, end regional bias in allocation of resources and improve the grievance redressal mechanism.
While his efforts have started to show results, albeit slowly, it’s the Hindutva agenda, pushed by “trusted people” deployed in key positions, which is shaping the public perception about the state government. “The government has done well in curbing corruption and making job selections fair, but there are several problems. Social fabric has weakened, caste divide deepened and law and order worsened,” says Kushal Pal Singh, associate professor and head of department, political science, Dyal Singh College, Karnal. “Issues related to BJP’s core agenda are being given too much importance”.
There are also those who feel that the ruling party, which came to power primarily with the backing of non-Jats, has let its Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini, whose provocative statements have riled the Jats in the state, have a free run to keep the caste pot boiling. Another veteran political observer sees fairness in recruitment and steps taken to check corruption as the CM’s two big achievements, but counts mishandling of the Jat agitation, failure to rein in ministerial colleagues and party MPs and the lack of adequate control on bureaucracy among his failures.