Chandigarh: “Ab ki baar 75 paar”, “Manohar sarkaar, imaandar sarkar”, “Manohar sarkaar, vikas apaar” — an entire arsenal of catchy slogans has failed to give the BJP a free run in Haryana, and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar may be one of the primary reasons why.
He relied on old ideas, and failed to step up when Haryana was held hostage by Jat protesters seeking reservation in 2016, and Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s supporters came out to protest against his conviction a year later.
He was also caught, more than once, making inappropriate remarks in the run-up to the elections.
The BJP’s alleged designs to consolidate the non-Jat voterbase to steal a march over the Jats seem to have backfired, with the Jat-led Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) and Bhupinder Singh Hooda-led Congress both emerging as strong players.
As of 2.20 pm Thursday, the BJP and the Congress were locked 38 to 34 in Haryana, with the state most likely headed for a hung assembly. In 2014, the BJP won 47 of the state’s 90 seats.
An uninspiring leadership
In 2014, Khattar was a first-time MLA who emerged as a surprise chief ministerial pick. Although he is expected to retain his seat in Karnal, a large number of the state’s top ministers were trailing in their seats as of Thursday afternoon.
At least 20 of the party’s sitting MLAs look headed for defeat as well, with the Congress and the JJP making the most of the BJP’s failures.
As chief minister, Khattar was completely dependent on civil servants, and also trained under them. This nearly turned him into a bureaucrat-politician — factually correct, compatible with rules, but lacking a leader’s vision for the state.
The month-long BJP campaign centred completely on Khattar, a 65-year-old politician who never got married. At his rallies, he boasted about the “honest government” he led and being a “faqir” with no dynasty to promote.
Introducing transparency in government recruitment and e-governance were indeed celebrated initiatives, but his administration’s over-dependence on central schemes is said to have put off voters.
The first half of his term lacked vision and his focus remained on three RSS-backed subjects — gau raksha, revival of the mythological Saraswati river, and the Gita mahotsav.
One of the lowest points of his administration came in February 2016, when Khattar appeared ill-equipped to handle the violent Jat agitation for reservation.
By the time the agitation ended, two dozen people were dead and property worth crores was damaged. Khattar’s “incompetence” was the talk of the town.
Another factor that worked to the BJP’s disadvantage was Khattar’s strategy to consolidate the non-Jat vote in an apparent bid to counter Jat supremacy in Haryana politics.
The Jats wholeheartedly voted for the BJP in the parliamentary polls, driven mainly by the Modi factor, but seem to have united against the party in this election.
While the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which got 19 seats in 2014, is now down to two seats, its splinter JJP, led by O.P. Chautala’s grandson Dushyant, is expected to win 10 seats in the Jat heartland.
A large part of the Jat vote is clearly back with the Chautalas. The Congress, led by a Jat chief ministerial candidate, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, has also gained from the Jats’ rejection of the BJP.
‘Overconfidence and arrogance’
Another factor that seemed to have contributed to the BJP’s less-than-stellar result was the overconfidence and arrogance displayed by candidates, including Khattar himself.
Although Khattar managed to become a household name across Haryana, he seems to have failed to portray himself as a mass leader.
Another perceived failure was the spurt in crime, especially against women.
Also, while Khattar managed to retain the image of an honest and sincere politician, whispers of his team indulging in corruption have been doing the rounds. Khattar was forced to order investigations into alleged irregularities in the hiring of AC buses, and the post-matric scholarship scam involving the alleged embezzlement of crores of rupees meant for the benefit of backward communities.