Manohar Lal Khattar: The RSS Pracharak who became Chief Minister

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By Kshvid News Desk with inputs from agencies

Manohar Lal Khattar, the 65-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader – with deep roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), first became the Chief Minister of Haryana in 2014. He wasn’t the face of the election then, and was chosen to lead the BJP in Haryana after the party’s handsome victory. The unconventional choice caused a flutter because the BJP of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi went for a non-Jat leader for a state whose politics had been shaped by the dominant Jat community for long. This poll season, however, the BJP goes to the hustings with Khattar as its unequivocal leader, whose ‘MaNo again’ war cry takes off from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s very successful campaign, ‘NaMo again’.

From a leadership revolt to a violent Jat agitation to Dera Sacha Sauda stir, Khattar’s rule hasn’t been without formidable challenges. But as he rode through each crisis thrown his way, the Congress in Haryana was a study in contrast as it kept devolving.

The turbulent ride

Manohar Lal Khattar was seen as a nobody in the BJP’s scheme of things in Haryana, and many believed he won the coveted CM post only because of his proximity to Modi.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the first hurdle that he faced was simmering internal revolt. His colleagues’ resentment towards him and lack of faith in his leadership only kept rising, leading to an open revolt by 18 party MLAs in 2017. rebellion continued well into late last year when MLAs, including a cabinet minister, spoke out against Khattar. The situation was such that BJP president Amit Shah was forced to step in. But Khattar came out unscathed while the ones on the losing side are those 18 MLAs – none of them has been given the ticket for the upcoming assembly election.

If intra-party politics weren’t enough of a burden that made Khattar seem like a weak link, external factors only added to his sorry image. The February 2016 protests by Jats over demand for reservation under the Other Backward Class (OBC) category brought Haryana to a standstill. The Army was called in and Khattar came out looking like a powerless, inept and unprepared leader, bringing much embarrassment to the BJP that takes pride in its ‘strong leadership’.

Already seen as someone with zero governance experience and barely-there administrative capabilities, a series of such events added to Khattar’s woes.

In August 2017, Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction led to violent agitations by his followers, leading to deaths and severe injuries. Once again, the government was caught napping while the situation dangerously spiralled out of control. Khattar, in fact, later did admit there had been ‘lapses’. Yet again, the ‘good governance’ touting BJP was left red-faced.

A similar drama played out when supporters of Rampal, a self-styled godman, refused to allow the police to enter his ashram to arrest him. It was only after a long and embarrassing standoff lasting a week that the police were finally able to enter the ashram, but not before more damage had been done to Khattar and his government’s image.

Khattar’s government has been in media for getting involved and ringing implementation in the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojanan scheme which was flagged by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since he assumed power, Haryana has seen an improvement in the child gender ratio. It is presently 889 girls for every 1000 boys. He also announced publicly that his government will build a memorial to mark the sacrifice of Garud Commando Gursewak Singh, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Pathankot. With such big power comes huge responsibility and with appreciaton comes controversies. Manohar Lal Khattar has also been criticised on some grounds. He was criticised for his remarks on rape and women issues. During his election campaign of 2014 polls he said “ If they (women) want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited.”  On 16 November 2018, he stated, “ The biggest concern is that in 80-90% of rapes and eve-teasing cases, the accused and the victim know each other. In many cases, they know each other for a long time, and on one day, when there is an argument,… an FIR is lodged, saying that this person has raped me.” This evoked strong condemnation from the opposition.

The turnaround

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are hardly the sorts who sit back when a disaster is unfolding in their party – a marked difference from the helplessness and lack of interest of the Congress high command.

Aware of the importance of retaining Haryana and not wanting to lose a single election, the BJP top leadership is believed to have politely told Khattar to get his act together. On his part, the initial rawness of leading a state gave way to a semblance of control and understanding. Soon, things began to look up.

As the Chief Minister of Haryana, he introduced major initiatives, including all woman police stations in every district with around 500 women constables in each. He introduced a 24×7 portal named ‘Harsamay’, through which people can file complaints online. In order to keep the police personnel mentally and physically fit, Khattar suggested yoga to be a part of police constables’ training. Khattar also made police recruitment based on Transparent Recruitment Policy (TRP). He also introduced e-services through Common Service Centres along with implementing the Biometric Attendance system in all the government offices. 

With the Congress being a non-factor due to its own internal troubles and the Chautalas’ Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) splitting in late 2018, Khattar developed the much-needed confidence that he could leave his problematic run behind and emerge as a powerful political force.

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