Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s failure to contain Jat protests seeking reservation in the OBC category has got the BJP top brass worried, given its performance in other states, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
The CM’s tenure has been riddled with controversies — the last being his remarks that Muslims could live in the country but they would have to give up eating beef. But his failure to prevent, and then contain, the Jats’ protest could cost the BJP dear, given its ambitions in UP that goes to polls next year.
Khattar, a former pracharak of the RSS, is a Khatri Punjabi and his elevation as CM in October 2014 was an eyesore to Jat leaders, both within and outside the BJP.
Fresh from a grand Lok Sabha victory in May 2014, the BJP rode a Modi wave in the assembly election held five months later to win in Haryana, a first for the party.
While many Jat leaders in the BJP nursed chief ministerial ambitions, two factors tilted the balance in Khattar’s favour. First, the party adopted a strategy of picking a CM from the non-dominant community — it appointed a Brahmin (Devendra Fadnavis) in Maharashtra and an OBC (Raghubar Das) in tribal-dominated Jharkhand.
Second, his RSS background and proximity to the prime minister also worked in Khattar’s favour.
He was appointed the organisational general secretary of the party in the state when Modi was still overseeing party affairs in the northern states of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh as an RSS pracharak.
The BJP tried to assuage the feelings of the Jat community by inducting Birender Singh as cabinet minister, but this had little impact. “Jats could never reconcile to a Punjabi becoming CM. The present protest also reveals the lack of trust the community has in him,” a BJP functionary said.
Union minister Sanjeev Balyan, a Jat leader from western UP, disagreed: “Such protests also happened during the rule of Bhupendra Hooda, a Jat.”