The adulation is manifest. As the grizzled chief minister leans out of his election campaign rath and chants his trademark Haryana ek, Haryanvi ek (One Haryana for all Haryanvis) line, hundreds jostle to shake hands with him. The so-called rath is in fact a massive outfitted bus equipped with a lift that takes him to the top to address bigger crowds.
Show of hands: The Jan Ashirwad rath rolls in (Photo: Vikram Sharma)
The 15-day, 3,000 km Jan Ashirwad yatra of Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, which wound through the state’s 90 assembly constituencies, will surely leave a lasting impression. With Haryana going to the polls in October, Khattar had launched the yatra to showcase his achievements and seek the blessings of the peoplehence jan ashirwad.
As the rath enters Elanabad, a small town in Sirsa district, Khattar climbs to the top to address the crowd. They are effusive, though Khattar is no great orator. The chief minister sticks to his showcase themeshow he curbed corruption in the government departments, freed the state of the evils of caste politics. In the last election, the BJP won only one assembly segment out of nine in the Sirsa Lok Sabha seat. Yet my government never discriminated against Sirsa, we have brought development to the area. You must now rise above caste and regional considerations, he says. As the people cheer, Karnal MP Sanjay Bhatia, who is in charge of the yatra, bellows over the din: This appeal of oneness by the chief minister has broken decades of caste- and region-based politics of favouritism and discrimination. Khattar himself later says he was overwhelmed by the response to the yatra. I must have shaken hands with at least one lakh people in these 15 days, he told INDIA TODAY.
On the evidence of the yatra, Khattar’s popularity is widespread and draws on his clean image. Omprakash Yadav, a marginal farmer in Jodhka village of Sirsa tehsil, is impressed. He listens to everyone… he has sincerely tried to end corruption, he says.
Not far away, Suresh Punia, a Dalit marginal farmer and his two college-going daughters, Radha and Ravina, gush. He clamped down on corruption and casteism. He wants justice for everyone, says Ravina. Yadav points to how, in the past one year, as many as 22 youths from the village have got government jobs. And they belong to all castes, from Dalit to Kamboj to even the Jats who were earlier often accused of cornering a majority of the jobs. Says Yadav: All of them got in without paying a single rupee [in bribes, which is the norm]. This is a feat in itself.
Khattar’s transformation, from being rated an honest but weak administrator, to his current dominant position, took some time coming. The chief minister himself puts it all down to a matter of perception. He says, You will be surprised to know that when I was organisation secretary of the Haryana BJP unit, party workers thought I was too strict. People used to fear meeting me. When I became chief minister, I wilfully set out to change my style of working.
Much of this weak’ perception was created by the Jat reservation riots and the agitations that followed the arrest of godman Ram Rahim Singh. Around 80 people died in the violence and police firing in the two incidents. Khattar had taken flak for his inability to deal with the blowback. The CM now feels these were engineered to show him in a bad light. But now the people know the truth, they have experienced what good governance can do. And we have enough achievements to show. For example, in the ease of doing business rankings, Haryana has climbed from 14th position to third among the states during our five-year rule, he says.
One of Khattar’s big moves was migrating the government recruitment process online and reducing the weightage of interview marks in the entrance examination for senior categories (it was removed altogether in the lower categories like for school teachers, who just apply online and get selected on merit). He cut out the human interface, leaving no room for favouritism and corruption, and introduced technology and check systems that have made the recruitment process relatively transparent. During his five-year rule, the state government claims to have created 75,000 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect ones in a fair and transparent manner, which has shored up its image.
Teacher transfer postings were a big industry’ in previous regimes with the going rate as high as Rs 35,000 for a choice posting. In Khattar’s time, teachers seeking preferential postings just had to apply online, giving three preferred places. The result: about 93 per cent teachers now get postings of their choice without having to grease palms, says government sources.
Sunita Duggal, the BJP Lok Sabha MP from Sirsa, says, The party machinery has coined catchy lines to beef up the chief minister’s image based on his work. Some of these have come from the people themselves. Like the one that goes: Khattar raj mein bina parchi bina kharchi (In the Khattar regime, things are done without a parchi meaning a chit symbolising nepotism or kharchi, bribes).
Another slogan that has caught the popular imagination goes: Haryana mein ek hi Lal, Manohar Lal, Manohar Lal. It refers to the end of the days of the three Lalsthe families of Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lalwho lorded over Haryana for decades, and the emergence of the only Lal that matters, Manohar Lal. The party’s Ab ki baar, 75 paar (this time 75 seats plus)’ slogan focuses on the party’s ambitions for the current electionwinning 75 of the 90 seats.
The opposition disarray should also help the BJP’s cause. The faction-ridden state Congress has just changed the state party chief on the eve of the polls (former Union minister Kumari Selja replaces state heavyweight Ashok Tanwar while ex-CM B.S. Hooda pulls strings in the background as legislative party leader and chief of the election management committee). As Khattar puts it, Changing the general when the battle has already begun shows the state the Congress and the opposition are in.
A major step in Khattar’s resurgence has been his firm dealing with power thieves in the farm sector. Haryana had for a long time been notorious for this. While punishing the power thieves, Khattar introduced a scheme of uninterrupted electricity supply to villages that eliminated power theft. From a situation where there was not a village in Haryana without power theft, now 4,200 of the 6,200 villages get 24-hour supply under the Mera gaanv, jagmag gaanv (My dazzling village)’ scheme.
Pramod Kumar, governance expert and director of the Chandigarh-based Institute of Development and Communication, has studied the Khattar model. When it comes to fighting corruption, he has done a commendable job, he says. This is in sharp contrast to the political culture that existed under previous regimes. Kurukshetra-based academic R. Tanwar says Khattar’s success lies in restoring meritocracy that had been destroyed in Haryana. His grievance redressal mechanism is very strong. It is all the confidence Khattar needs to convince the people he is the man to beat come October.