‘Momentum is on BJP’s side’: Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar
Upbeat after a strong showing in the Lok Sabha elections, in which his party swept all 10 seats in Haryana with a 58% vote share, Manohar Lal Khattar, 65, the state’s first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister, is a man in a hurry. In the final lap of his five-year term, he is pulling out all stops to keep up the tempo for the assembly elections due in October. In an interview to Ramesh Vinayak, Khattar spoke about the upcoming assembly elections, his track record, and his association with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Edited excerpts:
How are you approaching the last 100 days of your five-year term?
We definitely want to dispose of all pending works before the model code of conduct kicks in. Of the 7,950 announcements I made as chief minister in the past four-and-a-half years, about 2,000 are incomplete and we are pushing to implement them. Officers are following them up and I’m taking a stock of the progress daily. Barring 5%, I expect all announcements to be covered. We are moving fast on 15,000 recruitments through the Haryana Public Service Commission and staff selection commission. These include 5,000 jobs in the police which, however, may go beyond October as it entails physical test. Secondly, the current issues of water and power are high on our agenda.
In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on water conservation, we are focusing on micro-irrigation and groundwater recharging in the next three months. The government is promoting energy-efficient motors in farms that will lead to 20-25% saving of power. That benefit will help us clear the 80,000 pending tube-well connections. The government will soon launch the registration of families. The database will facilitate door-to-door delivery of family welfare schemes. We will launch a Meri Fasal Mera Beora portal on July 7 to register all farmers who will get direct compensation for crop loss due to natural calamity and payment of their crop sale. The focus is on transparency in government schemes.
In the assembly elections, what will you count on more: Your performance or the Modi factor?
Modi’s image will definitely work but we have a lot to talk about on performance, too. In fact, Haryana is leading many states. The Beti Padao Beti Bachao initiative started in Haryana before it became a national campaign. We took the lead in prescribing the educational qualification for elections to panchayats. Haryana is the only state to have reduced line losses by 12% due to power reforms. That’s why all four power utilities are, for the first time, in profit for the second consecutive year.
Will the Lok Sabha results influence the assembly polls?
Each election result has an impact on the next. The interval between these two elections is so short that it [influence] is bound to be there. This happened in 2014 and will happen this time, too.
The Opposition says the BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections in Haryana due to the Modi wave but voters will behave vote differently in the assembly contest. The same people were dreaming of an anti-Modi wave in the Lok Sabha elections. Look what happened. The momentum is on our side.
How will you buck the anti-incumbency factor?
The reports I have suggest that there is, for the first time, a pro-incumbency groundswell in Haryana.
Are you open to changing some of the sitting BJP MLAs?
There is no formula on this. The party forms a view on the basis of ground reports and internal surveys. The parliamentary board has its own feedback channels. Ultimately, the board will decide. But it is natural that some changes will be made.
Crime against women has often blighted Haryana’s image. Has that changed?
I can’t say crime against women has stopped. But there is a lot more awareness now. Earlier, such crime was not reported. We set up all-women police stations. All crimes are reported, and that gives the impression that the crime rate has gone up. Actually, it has not. Secondly, we enacted a stringent law under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, prescribing fast-track trials and death penalty for sexual crime against girls below 12 years. It has shown results. More than a dozen convictions have taken place in recent months.
Crime depends on social circumstances. I was surprised to find from the National Crime Research Bureau report that 93% of rapes or attempts to rape are between people known to each other. How much can you stop that? That can be corrected only through awareness by NGOs. Even khap panchayats are worried about it.
Until 2014, the BJP was a marginal player in Haryana politics. How has the state’s political landscape change so drastically?
By May 2014, the Modi factor had come up at the national level. The BJP built itself at the ground in Haryana before the assembly elections six months later. The Modi victory in the Lok Sabha helped the party get a comfortable majority in Haryana and form the first BJP government in the state. We got five years to work, which bolstered people’s trust in us.
The Congress has been stable only when it is in power. Whenever it’s out of power, it faces instability. Chaudhary Devi Lal’s party [the Indian National Lok Dal] is in disarray. Its top leaders are in jail and those outside became over ambitious. They, too, could not be in the opposition for long. Both parties owe their existence to power. Woh satta bhogte rahe. Ab satta nahin rahi. Is liye bin paani machhli tadpe [They crave power. Now they are not in power. That’s why they are stuggling like fish without water]. The BJP, on the other hand, has a history of surviving and thriving while in the Opposition since the days of Jan Sangh in 1952. For us, being in and out of power doesn’t make any difference.
Historically, Haryana politics has been Jat-dominated. Has that changed?
I don’t believe in caste politics. I’m for transparent, delivery-based politics. But people follow a political culture dictated by castes.
The Lok Sabha outcome shows that Haryana has moved beyond caste politics. We tried to rise above such caste consideration and worked for an even and equitable development in all 90 assembly segments. My slogan is ‘no discrimination, no favourtism and justice for all’. Today, one section of society is not scared of another. There was a time when the chief minister’s caste used to be domineering and would suppress or browbeat others. That has stopped now.
The perception is that the BJP has consolidated non-Jats in its favour.
I did nothing in this. Circumstances are such that no party can form a government with the support of one community or caste. I have taken along all castes, including Jats.
In 2014 , the BJP sought support of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda. Will it do so again?
In a democracy, parties seek votes from everyone, including organisations with a big following. The wrong is when you make a quid pro quo contract for vote. The BJP didn’t cut a deal with the Dera. It never will.
You have long been an associate of Modi before he became prime minister? How has he influenced you?
I’ve been touched by his dedication and sensitivity towards society. He is not afraid of experimenting with new ideas and initiatives. He says, ‘don’t consult too many people on new initiatives. That creates doubt. Just do it’. When he was party incharge of north Haryana in the ’90s, I was working for the party in the state, too. So we talked frankly on any subject.