Karnal: In 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprang a surprise, choosing his old friend Manohar Lal Khattar to head the government in Haryana, it was hailed as a masterstroke. In a state with an estimated 28 per cent Jat population — largely aligned with the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal — the experiment of appointing a first-term MLA belonging to the Punjabi Khatri community was expected to mobilise non-Jats in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Although the party failed to gain a majority in 2019 assembly elections, it stuck with Khattar, who enjoyed a clean image among the electorate.
However, now, seven years since Modi’s experiment, the BJP finds itself on slippery ground in Haryana.
It’s not just the farmers’ agitation against the Modi government’s three contentious laws that has queered the pitch for the party. Local newspapers are full of advertisements from private companies offering jobs but question-paper leaks, water-logging in villages and cities, and the boycott of political activities by agitating farmers dominate the front pages.
ThePrint travelled across Haryana’s Rewari, Jhajjar, Rohtak, Jind and Karnal districts to assess the situation on the ground. As it turned out, CM Khattar seems to be facing a crisis of credibility. Resentment against him is building up not just in the Jatland, but across regions and caste groups.
But the BJP seems unruffled, with leaders saying the party has faith in Khattar’s governance and track record.
‘No control over officials’
Siyaram Sharma, 65, of Jind’s Muana village, complains about Khattar’s perceived lack of authority over government officials. “Koi action leta suna hai, ki ye adhikari suspend kar diya? Khattar se mhaari bhains bhi na darti. Wo Khattar nahin khata sai (have you heard of him taking action against or suspending an official? Even my buffalo is not scared of Khattar. He’s not Khattar, he’s just sour),” Sharma says.
A young man standing next to Sharma, who doesn’t wish to identify himself, adds: “You go to any district department, it feels like we don’t have a government at all.”
Ramniwas Boora, from Jind’s Ghogiran village, reminisces about the “old days” when Bansi Lal and Devi Lal sat on the CM’s chair, and would make surprise visits to villages.
“On the spot naukri de diya karte the. Phir chahe koi anpadh hi kyon na ho, woh bhi roadways mein conductor ki naukri paa jaya karta (They would give jobs on the spot. Even if someone was illiterate, he would get a conductor’s job in the roadways),” Boora says.
He also recalls a common joke told across Haryana during election seasons. “Once Bansi Lal went to a village and a young man approached him. The CM asked, how much have you studied? The man replied he was illiterate, but wanted a job in the roadways. The CM replied, ‘phir to roadways nahin kisi department ka director banana padega’ and offered him a post.”
Asked if earlier CMs handed out jobs like Boora recalls, district officials admit they did, but hasten to add that such offers “bypassed rules”.
“These tricks won over the electorate, but they hampered the process of fair selection,” a senior district official says on the condition of anonymity.
Governance issues, corruption
Villagers across Jind, Karnal and Rohtak are also angry with Khattar over the delay in the allotment of agricultural electricity connections, and gather in huge numbers to complain. Some chalk it up to corruption and Khattar’s inability to rein it in, despite his known anti-corruption stance.
“The biggest problem is that the commission, which used to be Rs 2,000 in Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s days, has increased to Rs 10,000. I have given Rs 5 lakh for agricultural electricity connection, but my slippers are worn out from running from this office to that,” alleges 69-year-old Raghuvir Singh from Rohtak’s Hasangadh village.
Balbir Singh, who served as sarpanch of Rohtak’s Bhainsru Kalan village till last year and is aligned to the Congress, adds: “Now the whole village has to rush to the district (for work). Bribes have increased even for small work in the government departments. Pension is delayed for three months now. Funds are not released. There is so much chaos.”
However, a senior government official, who wishes to remain anonymous, explains that the delay in electricity connections is part of a plan.
“The Khattar government is visionary about discouraging farmers from growing paddy, in the backdrop of the rising water crisis in the state. Under the ‘Mera Pani, Meri Virasat’ scheme, the government offers Rs 7,000 to farmers for switching from paddy to other crops. That is being seen as a reason for the delay in electricity connections,” this official says.
Delayed panchayat polls
Khattar’s Haryana government has been postponing panchayat polls for more than a year now. In September this year, the government filed an affidavit in the Punjab and Haryana High Court that it wants to hold these polls in a phased manner.
But on the ground, this is also being held against the government.
“People are very angry that because of the farmers’ agitation, panchayat elections are being delayed. Now, people say that Khattar is CM only in name,” says Balbir Singh of Bhainsru Kalan.
‘It’s not about caste, it’s about Khattar and his deputy’
The big question when Khattar became CM was how a non-Jat would fare in the hot seat. But now, people of his own caste have turned against him, while Jats say they would have no problem accepting another CM of a non-Jat caste; their problems are with Khattar himself and Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala, a Jat.
In Rohtak’s Hasangadh village, Prem Singh Saini, who claims to be a BJP supporter, says he is opposed to Khattar’s politics. Saini runs a shop that supplies agricultural equipment to the farmers in the village.
“The Congress system is back. Khattar claimed that jobs will be transparent, but why are our Saini boys not selected for jobs? I can give you instances from a neighbouring village where only Jats were selected,” he says angrily.
At Jhajjar’s Rohad toll plaza, one of the protesting farmers, 52-year-old Vajeer Singh, mocks the leadership of Khattar and Dushyant Chautala.
“It’s clear that Khattar cannot take any decision without taking Dushyant on board,” he says, pointing to the numbers in the assembly. “And this time, we won’t let Dushyant get away with it.”
Rajender Singh Boora from Ghogiran village, a retired Armyman who is now a farmer, echoes the sentiment. “We voted for Dushyant in an unprecedented manner, but now he sits in the lap of Khattar. Khattar said that the Congress system will be thrown out, but the old, corrupt system is back in the past year,” he says.
More people seem impressed with state home minister Anil Vij’s janta darbar and ‘instant justice’ concepts than Khattar’s style of functioning.
Ramniwas Boora of Ghogiran village says: “Anil Vij taula faisla kar deta hai (Anil Vij decides quickly).”
Vajeer Singh adds: “They say Jats have a problem with a Punjabi CM. We say make Anil Vij the CM. He’s also a Punjabi. But Khattar and Dushyant don’t have the wherewithal to think of Haryana’s farmers.”
BJP not worried
In response to all these issues raised by the public, Jawahar Yadav, party spokesperson and former OSD to Khattar, says there is no need to change the CM face in the state.
“He is going to complete his term. Previous CMs were caste leaders, but Khattar belongs to all,” Yadav says. “Khattar is not unpopular. He is being praised for transparency in jobs across the state. There has only been one paper leak in recent times and it is being investigated.”
However, another BJP leader, who doesn’t wish to named, says “Haryana BJP doesn’t have any other face, so there will be no change in the chief ministership”.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)