Clueless Khattar

The depredations wrought by the violent Jat agitation in Haryana are as much testimony to the inadequacies of the Narendra Modi regime at the Centre as of the one in the state under his crony, Manohar Lal Khattar.

It was expected of the newly-elected rulers in New Delhi and Chandigarh to strive for ushering in achhe din; this could have been possible only by taking major steps to improve governance, introducing bold economic reforms, and doing away with the distortions in the economic framework. But the big boys, complacent after electoral victory, started squandering the impressive mandates that they had got: statecraft was confused with event management and smart sloganeering, big initiatives pertained only to social conservatism, and cluelessness of top bosses became evident over the months. Close on the heels of complacency was comeuppance.

On the face of it, Haryana was an unlikely state to suffer a stir of such proportion and intensity. With an area covering just 1.3 per cent and a population of just about 2 per cent of the country, the state contributes nearly 3.5 per cent to India’s gross domestic product. It is a major auto hub of India, manufacturing two-thirds of passenger cars, 50 per cent of tractors, and 60 per cent of motorcycles. In the services sector, too, it has done well, coming up as a major centre of IT (the third-largest exporter of software) and biotechnology companies.

Yet, everything has not been hunky-dory for Haryana. Quite apart from socio-cultural issues—a skewed sex ratio, khap panchayats, regressive mindsets, et al—there is the problem of lopsided regional development. This despite the fact that it is a small state. According to a white paper on state finances released by the Khattar government last year, in 2004-05, the ratio of per capita income between the richest and the poorest districts was 3.7:1, which zoomed to 9.7:1 in 2011-12. Worse, growth during Congress rule, both in the state and the country, was jobless. It was against this backdrop that the people of Haryana enthusiastically voted for Modi, both in general and Assembly elections. They longed for good governance and economic development; what they got was Khattar.

A first-time legislator with no executive experience, he could still have done something meaningful. But he lacked imagination and the prerequisite acumen. He persisted with the incremental approach, hoping things will improve on their own.

Worse, Khattar doesn’t seem to have street-smart shrewdness. He and his coterie failed to read the mood of Jats, a dominant agrarian community of the state. As it is, with 29 per cent population, they were feeling cheated that somebody from among them was not made Chief Minister. And with the same drift continuing, their anger burst into a mass upsurge, leading to 19 deaths, destruction worth tens of thousands of crores, and almost a caste war-like situation.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders are likely to peddle conspiracy theories, especially as an aide of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is alleged to have played the role of troublemaker. But the ruling party still has to do a lot of explaining. Which it is unlikely to do. In all probability, it will continue with Khattar, thanks to the line of thinking that removal of a minister or chief minister in trouble would amount to an admission of guilt. The self-righteous would never do it anyway.

The upshot: the people of Haryana will have to suffer Khattar more.