Manohar Lal Khattar begins his tenure as Haryana chief minister on a clean slate. Like Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he first became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001, he has been a life-long RSS functionary with no experience in administration. The BJP has never been a significant force in Haryana, where the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal have dominated electoral politics. Khattar, a non-Jat Punjabi from Delhi, and the BJP have not been part of Haryana’s political mainstream, which has nurtured cronyism and corruption. The absence of political baggage may have helped the BJP’s remarkable win — its tally went up from four seats in 2009 to 47 this time — besides, of course, the promise of development held out by Modi. Khattar ought to seize the moment.
Haryana has benefited from its proximity to Delhi, attracting capital and skilled labour that helped build industry and businesses in the largely agrarian state. However, urbanisation and industrialisation have been uneven and restricted to certain pockets; the uneven development, in fact, was one of the reasons for the Congress’s decimation. More importantly, the advancement in economic indicators has not translated into improvement in social indicators, especially those concerning women and the girl child. For instance, female literacy in the state is just 65.9 per cent, about 20 percentage points lower than among men. The sex ratio is an alarming 879 females to 1,000 males, against a national average of 940, and the child sex ratio is even lower at 834, which, many argue, indicates the prevalence of female foeticide.
The big challenge for the BJP government is to facilitate the state’s transition from a feudal society structured on patriarchal values and caste hierarchies to a contemporary social order. Urbanisation and economic growth in the past two decades have unleashed forces that are already challenging social relations and are being resisted by traditional forms of authority like khaps. Khattar, known in the past for siding with conservative forces, should now ride the winds of change. Haryana didn’t vote for status quo but for a clean, efficient and forward-looking administration.