At an Idea Exchange moderated by Resident Editor Nirupama Subramanian, Haryana Industries & Finance Minister Captain Abhimanyu speaks about the recent Jat agitation that rocked the state, the government’s response and the focus on ‘Ek Haryana, Ek Haryanvi’ concept at the upcoming investors’ summit
Why Captain Abhimanyu: Captain Abhimanyu is one of just two Jat Ministers in the Haryana Cabinet. Apart from holding other key portfolios, Abhimanyu is also Industries Minister and is among the chief organisers of the Happening Haryana Global Investors Summit-2016 in Gurgaon from March 7, barely three weeks after a violent agitation by the Jat community that saw the state’s law and order machinery collapse in the face of rioting and arson that killed people, targeted communities and caused damage to properties, trade and business. During the agitation, properties, establishments and a house owned by Abhimanyu’s family were also torched by protesters in Rohtak.
Nirupama Subramanian: The government was nowhere to be seen during the chaos, arson and rioting in Haryana.The law and order machinery in the state collapsed entirely. Now, you’re having this Global Investors Summit from March 7. How do you expect investors to invest in a state that cannot guarantee their security; where law and order vanishes at the first sight of trouble?
It was over two days – Feb 19, 20 and half of 21- two-and-a-half days. Yes, the situation did go out of control… specifically in Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonipat. But, at the same time, we were able to bring it under control in less than three days and we were able to restrict the damage to properties as much as possible. Investors do factor in law and order situations. But what is more important to the investors is the overall response of the state and society to these situations.
For example, there was a team of 26 Japanese in Rohtak. When they contacted the state government, we airlifted them to safety with the help of the Air Force and Army. As for society’s response – there are instances where many industries were protected from arsonists and looters by local villagers. So, it is the resilience that state and society have shown and the determination with which we have tried to rebuild confidence in industrial investors’ community that will make sure that this event is going to be successful.
I must add that when we were a bit tentative about holding this (‘Happening Haryana’) event after all this, it is the industry and business community who contacted us to say it’s okay, the foreign offices of different countries who contacted us with the response that ‘we are still committed to what we have proposed to you, we would still like to go ahead and explore and we would like to back you up in this time during these times’. So that encouraged us to go ahead, of course without all the glamour and glitz.
Nirupama Subramanian: What confidence building measures are you offering your potential investors in the light of what happened? What are the assurances that you’re going to give them?
All businesses and industries that suffered damage — we immediately announced compensation and relief to them. We also gave immediate relief to small traders and small businessmen. We met with the insurance companies on a day-to-day basis we’re monitoring how many claims have been reported, how many claims have been assessed and how many claims have been settled. We have set up a committee of IAS officers to monitor all the assessment of damages that are going on in different districts. We have started disbursing the compensation. We’ve given relief in terms of house tax payments, power bill payments and also deferred VAT payments and filing of VAT . What matters is the overall intent of the government. Law and order situation is the responsibility of the state and if the state fails to protect the businesses and the industries, so we’ve taken that responsibility on ourselves to make sure that we compensate for that.
Nirupama Subramanian: But what reassurance can you give them that this will not happen again?
From each event, the state and society do learn and the response they came up with is itself a major assurance to the industry. Now, besides that we have learnt some lessons, so definitely we do feel that there is a need to revamp the entire law and order machinery at the local level, we need to equip the law and order machinery much better to be able to anticipate these situations and respond to them whenever such situations are about to arise or try to make an impact even before they are able to reach that scale that they can cause any damage.
Nirupama Subramanian: Is that an admission that you failed to see this agitation coming, and failed to anticipate that it would burst in such a big way?
We have already accepted it openly — the worst thing is denial. We did get intel reports that this agitation is expanding to certain new territories, we did receive certain intel and inputs that some of the political outfits are also there, but definitely there was a lack of anticipation as far as the scale of violence, rioting, looting, robberies. This could not be anticipated. Now that we know that this has happened, the law and order machinery has to be geared up in future. The intelligence agencies have to be geared up in the future to make sure that this don’t happen.
Varinder Bhatia: In the run-up to the investors’ summit, your whole attention has been on compensating the people of the state and then reintroducing the faith among the investors. Will this hamper the summit?
Haryana was moving on a very good growth trajectory in the past one year. A prestigious magazine ranked Haryana as the best state in the country in terms of the macroeconomics situation. Because we were also moving in the right direction in many other ways — political, social and administrative steps that we have taken for example — for the first time the state started to believe there would be a government which would be transparent, objective and more honest than any other government before. Besides this, the ‘Ek Haryana, Ek Haryanvi’ concept. Initially, we were referred to as ‘inexperienced’ people. We did gain experience, we were strengthening our whole administration and the results of the panchayat elections proved the point that the experiment which we conducted in bringing in new leadership at the grassroots level at the village, leadership which is younger, which is educated, which has a better social and economic integrity. With all this, the Happening Haryana summit was gaining traction.
We feel that there were certain disgruntled, frustrated and desperate political forces who were not happy with the overall scenario that was emerging and they wanted to disrupt this growth trajectory. So it has created a sort of disruption for the moment but I am glad to notice that the overall resilience of the past few days and the response from the investors.
Khushboo Sandhu: After this agitation, a divide has emerged between Jats and non-Jats, and within the state BJP as well. How does government plan to deal with that?
This is an unfortunate fallout of the entire incident, that it took this ugly turn. It has harmed the overall social fabric of the state. It has created a kind of schism in the minds of people for the time being. But again, I am glad to note and share with you that the overall society in the state of Haryana have already started working on rebuilding that confidence and mutual trust. We are getting reports from different villages that even various Khap panchayats have moved ahead to compensate for the losses to businesses and people who have suffered. A lot of initiatives are happening on their own. In the state government, we have consciously and deliberately decided to work on rebuilding the trust between communities. We dedicated this week for Sadbhawna Mission. We are trying also at the administrative level and the deputy commissioners to engage with various social institutions, cultural institutions and religious institutions and semi-religious organisatons, clubs and different trader associations, schools and colleges and institutions.
Khushboo Sandhu: It was an MP of your own party, Raj Kumar Saini, who said some things, and the situation exacerbated after he said them.
This is not an appropriate time to comment on these kind of things because we are moving towards repairing the social fabric and we would like to make amends for anything that has happened.
Vinod Kumar: [Chief Minister Manohar Lal] Khattar did not appear to be in control of the situation…
We are a Cabinet who works under the concept of joint and collective responsibility and we are collectively responsible for everything that has happened and every member of the Cabinet is fully, totally, wholly behind the Chief Minister. This is the best we could have done collectively. Yes, in each such event you always learn a lesson, and we wish the lower level administration had a better response and was better equipped to deal with the situation. Whatever has happened… we are collectively and jointly responsible for that. We take full responsibility and this is the best that the chief minister and his council of ministers and the government could have done in the given circumstances.
Nitin Sharma: You have said that some forces are responsible for the looting and arson. Who are these forces?
It would not be proper for me to give any names at this stage. Investigations are in progress and they are moving in the right direction.
Kanchan Vasdev: What is the truth behind the reports about alleged rapes at Murthal?
If at all this has happened, nothing could be more gory than this. And this is the commitment with which the state pursued the complaint and we went ahead overboard to get the complainants to come, and in any way they could reach out to the administration. Three lady officers [were deputed to reach] out. The women’s commission also moved in and tried to find out the facts. Even today the Chief Minister and the entire government is committed that if at all there is anything to it, we will be taking strictest exemplary action. So far we have not received a complaint and have not been able to establish prima facie situational evidences, circumstantial evidences which led to this being true.
Jagdeep Singh Deep: Reports suggested that Punjabi community was targeted during the agitation. Is there a divide between the locals and Punjabi community?
I won’t subscribe to this perception in general. There are businessemen and traders who have suffered. In some cases, it did appear that some of the targets were selected. We cannot say at this moment that they were selected on community lines.
Nirupama Subramanian: Jats are really a powerful community, they have been at the centre of political power in Haryana, they are the principal land owning caste, In other ways also they are dominant in Harayana. So do you really think they should be demanding the status of backwarrd classes category?
At this stage of the turmoil, I won’t like to get engage in the debate of who deserve who doesn’t deserve or comparative evaluation of one against the other and I would leave to the various committee which are looking into it.
Kanchan Vasdev: The issue of of Punjab waters has taken centrestage again and political leaders in Punjab say they won’t share a drop of water with Haryana. What do you have to say to that?
Can you allow me to correct your question please? It is not the sharing of Punjab waters. That has been a share of Haryana which has been deprived for long. Absolute injustice. It was part of the initial accord and various others accords were signed, then it got denied and honorable Supreme Court also gave the judgment finally said that [SYL canal] must be constructed.
And this situation is stressful in southern Haryana. Since water is (essential to) basic life and I am sure that whatever we need to do with the Centre, we will definitely do to ensure that basic right of people is not denied anymore.
Nirupama Subramanian: Was your government’s inexperience at fault for your inability to anticipate this whole agitation. Secondly, how much did it matter that this govt is seen as a non- Jat government for things getting out of hand, and three, as a Jat minster in a non- Jat government what was your own role red-flagging it to your government?
We in the BJP don’t believe in caste divisions and we don’t subscribe to this politically inspired and media propounded concepts on Jats and non-Jats. This is a government for all. We have been strongly committed to “Sab ka saath Sab ka Vikas”. I have been in politics for more than 15 years. I have been an active BJP worker I believe in the political ideology of my party. I have never ever claimed myself to be a leader or representative of a community.
Each of us is born in some community. But I don’t carry it in my day-to-day working and also political working. And in response to your first question about inexperience and anticipation this entire agitation has a history and we did anticipate very well. Whereever it has occurred in the past, in all those areas the leaders we engaged, we got a positive response from them. In all those areas such as Hisar, Jhind, Kaithal, Fatehabad this agitation was by and large peaceful but for a few incidents. With new areas and new agitation groups coming in, it was a difficult to anticipate their plan since they were
Nirupama Subramanian: Are you accusing the Congress for this?
If I had to accuse them, I would have done it before. I will wait for investigation to be over and truth to come out the initial inputs have given certain directions. And let’s see how evidence and investigation in in progress.
Varinder Bhatia: Did CM Khattar, at any point, offer to step down?
No, not at all. See, that (Jat agitation) was happening… We were all going through hard times. And we were all trying to give our best. To be united and to work with the administration as closely as possible. We were almost not sleeping for back-to-back nights. We all working to get out of this crisis.
Varinder Bhatia: Only one senior level officer has been suspended for the violence in the entire state, and it is said you tried to contact him when your house was set on fire. Does his suspension have to do with that?
See, no one person alone is responsible for this. But yes, field commanders have to take responsibility. As far as [the arson on my home] was concerned, I tried to contact him, but I can assure you that there is nothing personal at all. I have that strength to absorb any personal loss in personal capacity. And I never mix my personal and my political life. And I would not like to influence any decision in government by what I have suffered at a personal level. That is the entirely the decision of the CM, which officer is to be posted and where. In the given circumstances he has taken some decision. As his colleague, I am with him on every decision he has taken to improve the situation and build back the confidence with the masses. To make sure that if there is someone who has not done his duty good enough, he is also punished so that the message is loud and clear in the society.
It is unfortunate that like many other citizens, my family was also left alone and that moment of crisis. Nine members of my family — including my wife and son — were in the house at the time it was set on fire. They were rescued. I am more concerned about the other people’s loss and I do take responsibility as a member of cabinet and senior member of the government for all those lives and for any lapse at the administrative level.
Nirupama Subramanian: Did you file for compensation?
There are more than 50 members in the family. We are six brothers. We lost everything. We have also announced that whatever compensation we get as a family, will be disturbed to other people who have lost. I don’t know whether any compensation file has been filed so far on behalf of my family.
Hina Rohtaki: You are a Jat leader and your house was set ablaze?
I have never tried in my political career to act as the leader of a community. Those who saved my family were from all communities, including the Jats. More than 100 of them were hurt. They were beaten up badly, petrol was thrown on them.As far as the attack on my house goes, it points towards a well-planned political conspiracy. I am waiting for the report.