Three years ago, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was left embarrassed when almost his entire Cabinet except him and his Cabinet colleague Anil Vij lost the Assembly elections. This compelled Amit Shah, then the BJP president, to step in and forge an alliance with the Jannayak Janta Party led by Dushyant Chautala to keep his party in power.
On Thursday, as the BJP completed eight years in power in Haryana, Shah, now the Union Home Minister, praised Khattar and called him the “best chief minister” Haryana has had. “After a long time, since independence, Haryana has got such an honest and dedicated Chief Minister. Unlike the past, when the State used to get a Chief Minister either from Sirsa (a reference to Om Prakash Chautala) or Rohtak (referring to Bhupinder Singh Hooda), our Manohar Lal has today become the Chief Minister of entire Haryana,” Shah said, lauding the CM for the “commendable work of transforming Haryana”.
In August, Khattar received praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the inauguration of the Amrita Hospital in Faridabad. The prime minister said governance reforms in Haryana had propelled the state to number one on many platforms. Modi praised the CM in October 2021 too for running an “honest and unbiased government”. He added, “Whenever any assessment of the developmental work will be done, the Manohar government will be termed as the best.” The comments at the time were made during a programme organised at the National Cancer Institute on the Jhajjar campus of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS).
Shah’s praise for Khattar also came on a day when Vij, another tall state BJP leader, was interrupted four times by the Union Home Minister who forced him to cut short his speech during another event organised by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) at Surajkund in Haryana. In the past, Khattar and Vij have often locked horns.
Asked about the effusive praise for Khattar from the top two BJP leaders, a senior party functionary said, “With both Modi and Shah showering praises on Khattar, the party has also got a clear message that Khattar is undoubtedly the party’s face for the upcoming 2024 polls. Although there is not that kind of factionalism that other political parties, especially Congress, are facing, all his detractors have got a crystal clear message that Khattar is undoubtedly the party’s face in Haryana.”
Khattar has managed to retain the hold on the CM’s chair despite the party’s poor show in the 2019 elections when it fell six seats short of the majority mark. Though the JJP’s support eventually ensured that he would retain power, Khattar also managed to get all the seven Independents elected and the Haryana Lokhit Party’s Gopal Kanda on the BJP’s side. He faced another curveball when farmers started protesting in 2020 against three agricultural laws pushed through Parliament by the BJP-led Centre. The protests continued for a year and the BJP faced the threat of its political capital in the state eroding but Khattar managed to keep the ship afloat and steady and weathered the storm without any major hiccups.
The party’s social media wing has already started projecting him as the CM face for the 2024 elections and Khattar’s pictures dominate the party’s posters everywhere. In his speech on Thursday, Shah even mentioned a 2019 incident during which Khattar was asked by the party’s high command about who the next CM of Haryana should be. “And rather than naming himself, he quoted 15 other names,” the Union home minister said, praising the CM for not being “hungry” for the post but only committed to work for the welfare of people.
CM vs Anil Vij
Vij and Khattar have often found themselves at odds in recent years, with the last time being in 2021 when the home minister sought to replace the then state police chief Manoj Yadava while the CM backed a one-year extension for the then Director General of Police.
Although the two leaders did not cross each others’ paths during the first term of the BJP government in Haryana, the fissures began to emerge soon after the second tenure commenced. In January 2020, Vij ordered the then ACS (Home) Vijai Vardhan to chargesheet then State Intelligence chief Anil Rao for a “major penalty” for not being able to gather enough intelligence inputs. The chargesheet for a major penalty can lead to an officer’s dismissal from service, reduction in rank or suspension as a form of punishment. He also asked Vardhan to remove Rao for “inefficiency, insubordination and dereliction of duty” and asked for appointing Shrikant Jadhav as Intelligence chief. But, Rao was neither chargesheeted nor removed from the post. He completed his tenure and retired in July 2020.
Vij and Khattar had even locked horns over the control of the intelligence department (CID) but, eventually, the department remained in Khattar’s control.
Despite the BJP central leadership throwing its weight behind Khattar, the Congress is not impressed with the CM’s track record. Former Chief Minister and incumbent Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said, “The BJP government did not reduce caste, corruption, and crime, but increased it. Here is BJP-JJP’s report card — the coalition failed to provide MSP (minimum support price) to farmers, employment to the youth, pension to the elderly, stipend to children and security to citizens. The government failed to provide teachers in schools and doctors in hospitals, and could not even provide medicine and oxygen to patients when needed. More than 700 farmers died on Haryana’s borders but the government’s heart did not melt. Children are protesting to save their schools, elders are struggling to save their pensions. This is this government’s governance level. Instead of building new schools, this is the first state government to close functional schools. The government eliminating vacant posts without any recruitment made Haryana number one in unemployment.”
Hooda added, “Dozens of scams including recruitment, paper leaks, mining, liquor, registry, paddy, ration, roadways, scholarship, electricity meter, AMRUT scheme took place in these eight years. The family identity card (Parivar Pehchan Patra) scheme was implemented in the state to end pensions for the elderly and reservation of the backward classes. The government should rather apologise to the public, instead of counting achievements based on fake figures and baseless claims.”