Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar travelled to China and Japan and has been crisscrossing the country to tout his state as an “ideal and peaceful” investment destination.
Promoting the state with the “Happening Haryana” tagline, Khattar, whose first year in power was lacklustre, had finally started to show the first signs of being in control with no major controversy in the new year.
But, as noted, these were just the ‘first’ signs.
GOVT LACKED SURE-FOOTEDNESS
When the Jats took to the streets to press their longstanding demand for reservation in jobs and education, the Khattar government failed to find the straws in the wind and realise the gravity of his first major political challenge. The brass, both administrative and political, first took time to react to a fast-developing situation and then responded in the now-familiar lumbering manner. Sure-footedness expected from the government was clearly missing.
Before the authorities could grasp the situation, the agitation that started from Rohtak and some adjoining areas with small groups of Jats squatting on roads and railway tracks had escalated and spread to the entire Jat heartland. The leadership did not show the requisite political will and gave confusing signals, and no effective back-channel negotiations were initiated. The ruling party’s Jat leaders such as Birender Singh, Capt Abhimanyu and Om Prakash Dhankar, who never cloaked their political ambitions, either lay low or tried to punch above their weight and failed.
The offer to double the economically backward quota, which the agitators rejected instantly, too revealed that the CM’s camp lacked political rigour and manoeuvring talent. And the fact that there is no one clear leader who is in command of the violent state-wide stir has only added to the troubles of the government. The administration, according to a top bureaucrat, is not sure of who to talk to in the disparate groups of protesters.
“The leadership cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the current situation. It is a prisoner of indecision and cannot escape the blame for doublespeak of its leaders on quota,” a political science teacher said requesting anonymity.
The result: The happenings of the week gone by are not just threatening to upset its plans to market Haryana as the most suitable investment destination, but also sharpened caste fault lines.
PAMPERED FOR LONG, JATS RESTLESS
Though opinion is sharply divided on granting quota to the dominant caste, Jats, an affluent community with considerable political clout traditionally, have been restless since the BJP came to power in the state for the first time with strong support from non-Jats, riding a Modi wave in October 2014. Khattar, a first-time MLA from the Punjabi community, was appointed as chief minister — the first non-Jat CM in almost two decades.
Pampered for long, Jats — especially those in Rohtak district, the epicentre of the ongoing protests — saw power and perks such as political clout, powerful positions and government-funded projects slipping out of their hands. The current CM’s assembly constituency of Karnal was said to be the new favourite. Though the government made swift payment of compensation for crop failure last year, there is widespread feeling that under the present government, the community does not have the sway it once commanded.
Another misstep of the BJP was to let Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini, who has been vehemently opposing Jat quota and heaping scorn on the community, continue his provocative statements. Saini’s egregious behaviour has been blamed by several leaders, including a former CM, for the current crisis. The party also failed to take any confidence-building measures.
“The paradox in the Jat community is that a microscopic minority has an economic edge whereas a large section, mostly marginal farmers, is facing pauperisation due to shrinking land holdings and constant failure of crops. And, those who are agitating may not be beneficiaries of reservation, if and when it is granted,” says former dean, social sciences, Kuruksehtra University, prof (retired) Ranbir Singh.