Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his aides have been planning a full-on publicity blitzkrieg to mark the first year of the first-ever Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in the state later this month.
But before the multimedia campaign could commence, Khattar was in the eye of the storm on Friday due to his off-putting remark on Muslims and beef. While his aides made desperate attempts to deny the comment, there was no escape. Not only the opposition got a chance to lay into him, his own party promptly distanced itself, publicly declaring it as “wrong”.
While party leaders, including two Union ministers, rejected his remarks, both publicly and privately, BJP president Amit Shah on Sunday upbraided Khattar and some others, warning them against making such remarks. The party has been spoiled for the chief minister even before it began.
Emblematic of a bigger problem
The gaffe wasn’t his first. Khattar has had a few foot-in-mouth moments from the time he made it to the list of the party candidates for the state assembly elections around the same time last year. The first-time CM, who remained a full-time “pracharak” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for long, has made bizarre and controversial comments on women’s way of dressing, pre-marital sex and khap panchayats in the past year or so.
But Khattar is not the only one shooting himself in the foot. There are others like health minister Anil Vij, agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar, parliamentary affairs and education minister Ram Bilas Sharma and Kurukshetra member of Parliament Raj Kumar Saini also who have been shooting off their mouths from time to time.
If Dhankar’s remarks on farmer suicides left his party colleagues red-faced, the parliamentary affairs minister was in the dock for using “objectionable” language while referring to Jawaharlal Nehru. The health minister beats them all, taking subtle and not-so-subtle digs at his colleagues, including the chief minister, expressing his views on government decisions irrespective of his role and making controversial statements. And, it wasn’t very long ago that his charge of snooping against his own government had left the party shaken.
Primacy of RSS agenda
A fringe player dependent entirely on state parties for decades, the BJP had muscled its way into power last year, riding the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its development agenda and please-all promises. Though it has been a year, the government has yet to show how it will deliver on the populist promises made in its election manifesto, which had something for everyone and released just days before the assembly elections.
Barring a few things like increase in welfare pensions, ban on cow slaughter and a couple government policy documents, the Khattar administration appears to have washed its hands off most of its pre-poll promises using the “white papers” its published to paint a bleak picture of state finances. The government thrust, in popular perception, has been on pursuing an agenda considered dear to RSS.
While the chief minister has packed his team with non-officials owing allegiance to the organisation, the government agenda has been dominated by its focus on introducing “slokas” from Bhagvad Gita and yoga in schools, giving a role to RSS ideologue Dinanath Batra in formulation of education policy and including his books on moral science in school curriculum, making yoga guru Ramdev the state’s brand ambassador, searching for Saraswati river and banning cow slaughter. The ministers have been equally enthusiastic about pushing these in their departments.
New ideas, but delivery awaited
Being a party of power for the first time in the state, the BJP government has come up with some fresh and positive ideas aimed at transparency and curbing corruption. The CM and his team have been pushing e-Governance to use technology for smooth delivery of services and entitlements, redressal of grievances and, last but not the least, for better accountability.
The CM window, Aadhaar-based Biometric Attendance System (ABBAS) and e-tracking of official files are aimed at improving official working. Also, its steps to make the recruitment process transparent by doing away with or reducing the marks for interviews in selections for government jobs and introduce minimum educational qualifications for contesting the panchayat elections are steps in the right direction.
But such initiatives do not producing quick results. They give long-lasting outcomes, but take time. If these measures have brought any change, in the government working, any talk of it has got drowned in the din caused by the saffron agenda of the government.