Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar Tuesday expanded his cabinet, inducting an MLA each from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partner Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). In the second expansion carried out in two years, BJP’s Hisar MLA Kamal Gupta and JJP’s Tohana MLA Devender Singh Babli were inducted as cabinet ministers.
They were administered oath by Governor Bandaru Dattatreya at a ceremony held at the Haryana Raj Bhavan here. Gupta took oath in Sanskrit while Babli took oath in Hindi. With the induction of the two MLAs, the strength of the Haryana council of ministers has gone up to 14, including the chief minister, which is the upper limit. The induction of two ministers in the much-awaited Cabinet expansion in Haryana has made the position of Dushyant Chautala stronger in its coalition with the BJP. The move may help the BJP further mellow the anger against it in the state over the farm laws. Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), like its parent party INLD, counts farmers among its vote base.
In the existing Cabinet, apart from Chautala, who is the Deputy CM, the only other JJP minister was Anoop Dhanak (Uklana MLA), a Minister of State holding the portfolio of Archeology and Museums (Independent charge) and Labour and Employment.
Sources said that with two vacancies in the Cabinet, the BJP had been under tremendous pressure from the JJP to accommodate more leaders from the party. Six short of the majority mark of 46 after the 2019 Assembly results, the BJP had formed the government with the help of the JJP’s 10.
Babli’s induction is significant as he was a strong critic of not only the BJP but also Chautala during the long stalemate with the farmers. Having defeated BJP state chief Subhash Barala in 2019 by over 53,000 votes, Babli, a Jat leader like Chautala, had expected to be made a minister but was kept waiting for two years. He also has pedigree on his side, with grandfather Captain Umrao Singh having been a member of the Azad Hind Fauj led by Subhas Chandra Bose.
In January 2020, Babli called the BJP-JJP government “the most corrupt” and said he was “ashamed” at being part of a government where “nobody was bothered about people”. Babli even called the state police officers “nothing but vardi vaale gunde (hooligans in uniform)”.
He repeated the allegations speaking to The Indian Express, saying: “People are not satisfied. How can they be satisfied when even I (an elected representative) am not satisfied?”
Babli wasn’t the only JJP leader concerned over the impact of the farmer anger on the party that is still a greenhorn, having fought its first election in 2019. With farmers taking out their anger by not letting BJP and JJP MLAs visit constituencies or hold public meetings as the protests went on, JJP MLAs had put pressure on Chautala to withdraw support to the Khattar government. Last January, six JJP MLAs issued “a virtual ultimatum” to the leadership to raise the farmers’ issues before the Centre. The other new minister, Kamal Gupta, is a Bania, a community that the BJP is hoping to keep by its side. A qualified doctor, Gupta is an old RSS worker, a long-time dedicated worker of the party, and a two-time MLA from Hisar.
Senior Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda dismissed the Cabinet expansion. “The political relevance of a government in a state is whether it is efficient or not. Inducting new ministers will not bring any change to this government’s functioning. It has already failed on all fronts.”
Talking to reporters, Haryana BJP chief OP Dhankar, commenting on the induction of the two leaders, said Kamal Gupta works dedicatedly on any task he takes up, while Babli is energetic and works with passion. When asked that Haryana Home and Health Minister Anil Vij was conspicuous by his absence at the ceremony, Dhankar said, “He is our senior leader and we take decisions after consulting him”.
When specifically asked if Vij was unhappy over any issue, Dhankar said, “He is our senior leader and best performer”. Interacting with reporters, Dr Kamal Gupta, a two-time MLA, said his priority will be to ensure Hisar and the state’s development. The newly inducted ministers said allocation of portfolios is the prerogative of the chief minister and whatever department they get they will try to give their best.