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In Haryana, Khattar's problems stretch beyond farmers' protest

By Radhika Ramaseshan
August 02, 2021 16:10 IST
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Apart from the second pandemic upsurge in Haryana which devastated its cities and villages, in most districts panchayats stopped inviting BJP-JJP leaders to social gatherings, while a few announced a boycott, reports Radhika Ramaseshan. 

IMAGE: Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar interacts with the media at Haryana Bhawan, in New Delhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

In March this year, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government in Haryana earned a reprieve of sorts when it defeated a Congress-sponsored no-confidence motion in the Assembly by 23 votes, with a 55-32 break-up.

Not only did the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party keep its principal ally, the Jannayak Janta Party on its side, it got support from five of the seven Independents and one member of the Haryana Lokhit Party.

JJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala -- under pressure to pull out of the coalition from both within the party and outside after sustained protests against the Centre's farm laws -- assailed the Congress and its leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda for 'extending undue favours to big corporate houses at the cost of farmers'.

Hooda maintained the idea behind the no-confidence motion, despite the obvious lack of numbers, was to 'expose' those MLAs who were not with protesting farmers in the stalemate after the Union government refused to repeal the three farm laws (the Supreme Court stayed their implementation).

While the BJP defended the legislation in one voice, Chautala painted himself into a corner.

During the debate, he argued he would be part of the ruling coalition until the day he can ensure minimum support price (MSP) to farmers and claimed he would be the first to quit if he failed.

Although JJP MLAs--— notably Devender Babli (Tohana), Jogi Ram Sihag (Barwala), and Ram Kumar Gautam (Narnaund) publicly criticised the deputy CM for not withdrawing support -- they voted against the motion.

"It's apparent that the so-called JJP dissidents were put up by Chautala to stave off public pressure to an extent," a BJP source said.

"The BJP's limited gain was we saved our government despite palpable anger among farmers."

However, between March and June, other developments did not augur well for the BJP's wellbeing.

Sampat Singh, Haryana's former finance minister, refused to accept his nomination to the state executive committee, reconstituted by O P Dhankar who took over as new BJP state president.

Singh stated: "Politics is impossible in a closed room and under police protection."

Singh, who left the Congress and joined the BJP before the 2019 assembly elections, persistently asked the Centre to rescind the farm laws and give statutory status to MSP to enable farmers to sell their produce at government rates.

Apart from the second pandemic upsurge in Haryana which devastated its cities and villages, in most districts panchayats stopped inviting BJP-JJP leaders to social gatherings, while a few announced a boycott.

Posters were put up unwelcoming the representatives of the ruling coalition; anyone who 'dared' to step inside a hostile village was attacked and forced to seek police cover.

"We couldn't present to villagers. We couldn't propagate the correctives the Centre and the state government took," a BJP source admitted.

A senior Haryana BJP leader said: "Merely increasing the MSP is not a new feature. It happens annually. It's not about laws. It's about the deep-seated fear among farmers, especially small farmers, that they may lose their land.

"Our party has not allayed but intensified their fears."

In defence, Sandeep Joshi, a Haryana BJP leader, said: "We took a democratic approach to the agitation and gave farmers the freedom to protest. It's not farmers but certain so-called political leaders who took advantage of the leeway given.

"These leaders or whatever you call them fought elections and lost their deposits."

Suresh Bhatt, a former state general secretary (organisation), maintained: "Is it a joke to repeal laws that were framed at the highest level of the government and enacted by Parliament? That's what agitators have reduced them to.

"The reality is for the past two years that farmers sold their produce in the open market at twice the MSP rates. Their counterparts in Punjab and Rajasthan wanted to do business in Haryana because commercial conditions were more conducive."

Pawan Saini, Haryana general secretary and former Ladwa MLA, argued: "Protestors are not from our villages. They are largely drawn from Communist cadres.

"If farmers were really part of the protests, how come Haryana yielded bumper cereal, mustard seeds, vegetable and fruit crops?"

Like in most states, politics in Haryana is conditioned by caste equations.

After the BJP's first spectacular showing in the 2014 assembly elections where it got the votes of every caste, including those of the Jats, the rainbow social coalition unravelled in 2019, when the Jats turned away.

However, the BJP was confident of making it because it re-engineered the math and worked on the vast expanse of the non-Jats, especially Other Backward Classes (OBCs), to cut its losses.

But the strategy didn't yield the projected expectations.

The BJP did not get a majority; still, it was the single largest party. It leaned on Chautala's JJP to get the numbers required to pass the floor test and agreed to the terms and conditions he laid down.

BJP sources conceded they were worried that they might have lost the Jat votes for time to come without being compensated adequately.

A veteran BJP Jat leader said: "The Jats live in clusters. If in a village the Jats vote a particular party, other communities like the Yadav, Gujjar, and other OBCs will vote likewise.

"Dalits might exercise a different option. Today, the Jats, who voted the JJP in 2019, are upset with Chautala for betraying the mandate."

The recent release of Om Prakash Chautala from Delhi's Tihar jail under Special Remission rules added another dimension to Haryana's politics.

The former CM is the patriarch of the Indian National Lok Dal, the party he founded.

The INLD and the Chautala clan have since splintered. The JJP, led by his grandson, is an offshoot.

A JJP source said: "Om Prakash Chautala will be relevant only if he manages to reunite the family and that seems a remote possibility."

However, former BJP MP and minister Birender Singh was on record to say: "People of our state have a gentle heart. They may show sympathy towards Chautala. His release will change the political dynamics."

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Radhika Ramaseshan in New Delhi
Source: source
 
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