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#JatQuotaStir: here's how Haryana CM Khattar unravelled. Can he recover?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:46 IST
In a matter of four days, the Jat agitation has left Manohar Lal Khattar's reputation in tatters. The chief minister of Haryana has come across as a weak and indecisive leader, incapable of delivering in the hour of crisis.

He's now in the firing line of the opposition, the Jats, the common man who has suffered greatly over the past few days as well as people within his own party. Indeed, when he visited Rohtak Tuesday, he was greeted with black flags and angry slogans.

Also read: Khattar is firefighting, but could #JatQuotaStir cost the BJP in UP?

Searching for scapegoats?

To dispel the impression of weakness, Khattar has booked Prof Virender Singh, a former aide to his predecessor, Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress, for sedition.

The professor is purportedly heard in an audio clip exhorting a Khap leader, Kaptan Mann, to indulge in violence. Expectedly, he has claimed the clip is doctored. The Congress has issued him a notice to "explain his conduct".

Political analysts, however, say the case against Prof Singh is an insufficient move by Khattar to shore up his image since "his strategy to deal with the situation was a complete flop", marked by one failure after another.

It was only when the central government stepped in, sending the ministers Chaudhary Birender Singh and Sanjeev Balyan to parley with the Jats, that the situation was brought under control. This was interpreted as Khattar's lack of confidence, experience and ability, and his over-reliance on the Centre.

Indeed, ever since assuming power, the Khattar government has looked towards the RSS and the BJP brass for a decision on every major issue, so much so that it has caused some discontent among the bureaucrats.

Is it any surprise then that Birender Singh is now perceived as being a "taller" BJP leader in Haryana since he was "specially brought in" to engage with the agitators, who had rejected Khattar's olive branch of enhancing reservation for EBCs in the general category, which includes Jats, from 10% to 20%.

Crisis of credibility

One stinging question being asked is, why did the Jats agree to end the stir only after the Centre reiterated Khattar's promise to bring a bill for a quota for Jats in the assembly? Why not when the chief minister himself announced it?

Clearly, Khattar's regime faces a credibility crisis. Indeed, the agitators had from the very beginning refused to accept any assurances from him.

Also read: Lost power, farm distress: what's really driving the #JatQuotaStir?

This loss of credibility is largely self-inflicted. Khattar failed to keep his flock together when the agitation erupted. The war of words between his minister Abhimanyu Sindhu, who is a Jat, and BJP's Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini, on giving reservation to the Jats only fuelled the simmering discontent.

The chief minister did eventually "withdraw" Saini's comments against extending a quota to the Jats but the damage was done. To make matters worse, Saini continues to stand by his opinion.

A visibly angry Jat agitator told this reporter a few days ago, "Had Saini not made those comments, the Jats would not have gone to this extent."

Khattar has still not been able to contain the discontent in his cabinet. Health Minister Anil Vij has expressed displeasure over the announcement of giving compensation of Rs 10 lakh and a job to the kin of the Jat agitators killed in the violence. He says that the people who died defying the law should not be compensated.

In fact, the very manner in which the compensation was announced indicated a split within the government - some ministers were clearly caught unawares, sources insist, when Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ram Bilas Sharma made the announcement.

Also read: #JatQuotaStir: Rohtak protestor's killing adds fuel to the fire

As if this wasn't enough, Minister of State for Transport Karan Dev Kamboj has reportedly raised questions over the "handling of the situation". He feels "this situation would probably not have arisen" if the government had taken "a collective decision". It was the "casual approach" that led to the problem, he has said.

Inept administration

Questions are also being raised on the Khattar government's decision to call in the army "as the first resort rather than the last". The army is called in, the chief minister's critics point out, only when all other means to quell violence have been exhausted. In any case, the army didn't really deter the arsonists as it was mainly used for conducting flag marches.

The stir has also laid bare the government's inept handling of the police and intelligence apparatus. The chief minister could not gauge the severity of the problem as the police failed to give him a clear picture.

Also, there have been reports of the police being slow to act during the stir, and this is blamed on the government making them show "undue" restraint. The state reportedly had no answers when the Centre asked why the police had been so slow to act.

Also read: #JatQuotaStir: how Haryana CM Khattar dug himself into a hole

The "undue restraint" wasn't limited to the police either. Khattar didn't send his senior Jat ministers, Abhimanyu and Om Prakash Dhankar, to pacify the Jats when the agitation had just started. Adopting a wait and watch approach gave an upper hand to the agitators, who soon turned violent. Even seeking help from community and Khap leaders to engage the agitators came very late.

"Khattar definitely failed. There was no unity in the government when it came to handling the crisis. There was no clarity when it came to damage control. The strategy being adopted by him was not clear," says political commentator Dr Gurmeet Singh.

He points out that the violence was unprecedented and "as the chief, it's Khattar who is eventually responsible for letting the situation get out of hand".

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First published: 25 February 2016, 1:52 IST