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After Nuh, Can Khattar Win Third Term?

August 16, 2023 08:13 IST

If the CM can steer the BJP into forming a government for a third term, he will have achieved a unique place in the party's history -- Mewat notwithstanding.

IMAGE: Shops and properties damaged in communal violence in Haryana's Nuh. Photograph: ANI Photo

For chief ministers, it is the nightmare they hope never to have.

On July 31, a procession led by the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, through the Muslim Meo-dominated Nuh (headquarters of Mewat district) in Haryana, engulfed the most developed areas of the state like Gurugram and Palwal; and the most backward -- Mewat -- in mayhem and violence that many in the government allege was pre-planned.

An imam in a mosque, a VHP volunteer, and two home guards were among the six killed. Nearly 200 were injured.

When violence threatened to spread to nearby areas including Rajasthan and Delhi, the state administration sought additional paramilitary forces in tacit acknowledgement that the situation was beyond the state police. Sporadic cases of arson continue.

This is not the first incident of mass violence Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has had to handle.

Administrative failures of the Khattar government were blamed on caste riots (the Jats, a significant caste group, went on the rampage in the state in 2016 that the administration was unable to control.

The government put the blame on the sense of entitlement of the Jats); and lack of experience (the militant resistance when the police attempted to arrest self-styled godman Rampal after he failed to appear in court 43 times; and, later, the Dera Sacha Sauda buildup).

But this time, a communal divide is patent: And it may have to do with the socio-economic profile of Mewat.

Around 80 per cent of Mewat's population comprises Muslims, and a majority is Meo-Muslims, a unique ethnic group.

Nuh is just 60 km from Gurugram. But all of Mewat is pitifully underdeveloped.

A 2015 study of Mewat funded by the NITI Aayog finds that 90 per cent of the district is rural. The main problem is water: It is so saline that it is unusable.

In any case, barely 25 per cent of the households have a water source in the house.

In the absence of potable water, livestock rearing is the preferred occupation.

Livestock is both goat and cow: Which makes Muslim-majority Mewat vulnerable to attacks by cow vigilantes.

The study provides evidence of why Mewat feels the government has passed it by.

Nearly 50 per cent of the households still use firewood for cooking.

Open defecation is common and accepted. And yet, the intensity of mobile phones per household in Mewat is the same as the rest of the state.

This means rumours spread fast and conspiracies hatch faster.

After nearly 10 years of being chief minister, Mr Khattar cannot have been unaware of the realities of Mewat.

But like governments before him, money has been poured to develop the region with no evidence of results.

In the past, inexperience was cited as an excuse. It cannot any longer.

Mr Khattar has two leadership advantages: His reputation for personal honesty and his relationship with Prime Minister Narendra D Modi.

Mr Khattar and Mr Modi have known each other since the days when Mr Modi was the Bharatiya Janata Party prabhari (in charge) of Haryana.

Originally from Pakistan, Mr Khattar's family was very poor and migrated to Haryana, where he was born.

He came into contact with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh during the Emergency in 1975 and joined it in 1977.

Impressed by the RSS ideology and conduct of swayamsevaks during the Emergency, he became a full-time RSS pracharak by 1980.

He was engaged in Haryana politics and liaised with Mr Modi, who was 'lent' to the BJP at the time.

When the earthquake struck Gujarat, Mr Khattar was invited to lead the committee for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

In 2002, he was put in charge of polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

He was made chairman of the election campaign committee for Haryana in 2014.

The BJP's performance in Haryana in both the assembly and Lok Sabha elections that year was stupendous. He became first-time MLA (Karnal) and first-time chief minister.

Then came the 2019 assembly elections. While the BJP managed to win all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, its performance in the assembly was sub-par.

Though it improved its vote share, it could not cross 40 seats of the 90 and was forced to go, cap in hand, to the Jannayak Janata Party headed by Dushyant Chautala.

Mr Khattar was forced to agree to appoint Mr Chautala his deputy chief minister.

So far, Mr Chautala has stayed in line. But with months left for the assembly elections, if the BJP tally falls any further, he may decide to dictate terms.

The Congress is divided against itself. And the Aam Aadmi Party is still looking to put down roots in Haryana.

Haryana is happy with the Khattar-led government as the vote share increase in the last assembly elections suggests.

But the state doesn't like the BJP MLAs and voted for fewer of them in 2019.

This represents a problem for Mr Khattar: If he doesn't get a free hand in selecting MLAs, other parties could move in.

On the other hand, if he disturbs power equations within the BJP, the party could turn against itself.

But this much is clear: That if he can steer the BJP into forming a government for a third term, he will have achieved a unique place in the party's history -- Mewat notwithstanding.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

Aditi Phadnis
Source: source image