Manohar Lal Khattar delivers, but his lustre dims
During the election campaign, Haryana chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, 65, called himself a khiladi (player) who was initially dismissed as an anari (novice). It was a show of his confidence. Khattar went into the campaigning ahead of the October 21 assembly elections with virtually no challenge to his leadership. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept this summer’s national polls in Haryana under his leadership and won all 10 Lok Sabha seats. The performance threw the opposition into disarray. The BJP has reiterated that the incumbent CM will lead the new government that the party hopes to form.
The BJP’s performance — 40 out of 90 seats — in the assembly elections has taken the shine off Khattar’s rise after leading the first BJP government in Haryana for the full five-year term. It fell short of the BJP’s expectations. The vote share of the BJP compared to the national polls has dropped by 22 percentage points.
The result could bring Khattar’s election strategy, which included dropping some ministers and bringing in some outsiders, under scrutiny. It will raise questions within the BJP on whether the Punjabi-Khatri leader perhaps overlooked mobilisation against the BJP within the dominant Jat community. It is considered that Jats account for 25% of the state population. Khattar, a former pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice for the CM’s post. Both Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah praised Khattar’s work on Thursday.
The BJP inducted many influential Jat leaders like Birender Singh ahead of the 2014 assembly election and managed to split Jat votes while consolidating support among the non-Jat communities. The 2019 assembly election appears to have reversed the trend. A discontent among the Jats over the failure to get a quota within the OBC category and declining political clout appears to have helped the opposition. Khattar’s apparent failure to keep the social coalition of non-Jat communities intact seems to have also hurt the BJP.
“People have shown that they can vote differently for the national and assembly elections,” said Sidharth Mishra of the Centre for Reforms Development and Justice. “The Jat versus non-Jat politics did not play out in the BJP’s favour as much as it did in 2014.” Khattar struggled in handing the violence during the 2016 Jat agitation, following the 2017 rape conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim and before the 2014 arrest of Rampal Das. Khattar consolidated his position by delivering victories in local polls. “The BJP leadership perhaps showed too much faith in him, without realising its consequences,” a BJP general secretary said requesting anonymity. At least three BJP leaders ruled out a leadership change if the BJP is able to form the government in Haryana, but Khattar will be under greater scrutiny if he returns as the CM.