The violent agitation by Jats demanding quotas in public employment and education in Haryana has damaged the authority of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Manohar Lal Khattar within his organisation, with his detractors accusing the chief minister of mishandling the agitation in which 19 people have been killed, and public and private property worth crores of rupees damaged. The unprecedented targeting of non-Jats in the violence has also caused a social rift that is unlikely to heal in a hurry.
Khattar, a Punjabi Khatri, is a first-time MLA with no administrative experience. However, when the BJP bagged Haryana for the first time ever after the 2014 Assembly polls, he was pitchforked as chief minister due to his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was the state’s first non-Jat chief minister in nearly two decades.
The violence has now given disgruntled BJP leaders a good reason to seek Khattar’s ouster. That his Jat colleagues – including two ministers Captain Abhimanyu and OP Dhankar – did nothing to quell the anger of their community as Haryana burned speaks volumes of the trust the chief minister shares with his colleagues in the party. Even Union minister Birender Singh, a Jat Congress leader who crossed over to the BJP before the elections, kept away. The BJP’s tallest Jat leader, Singh has never hidden his ambition to become the chief minister even when he was with the Congress.
The protests have also given Khattar’s biggest critic within his ministry, health minister Anil Vij, one more reason to hit out at him. On Monday, Vij objected to Khattar's decision to award compensation to those killed in firing during the current agitation. Vij said that those violating the law and engaging in violence should not be compensated and has even threatened to resign on the issue.
Jat opposition leaders, including former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the leader of the opposition Abhay Singh Chautala, did not attempt to calm the mobs either. In fact, an audio tape has surfaced in which a senior Hooda aide is heard allegedly instigating some local leaders to commit violence.
On Tuesday both Khattar and Hooda were heckled when they visited the epicentre of the trouble – Rohtak – separately. Both were asked to go away.
Split wide open
Jats are the single-largest community in Haryana, comprising about 29% of the population. Their demand to be included in the other backward classes or OBC category is at least two old. During previous agitations too, they blocked road and rail traffic, and disrupted the water supply to Delhi. But this is the first time that the state has seen violent and widespread attacks on non-Jats. The damage to the state’s social fabric is immeasurable.
On Wednesday, The Indian Express reported that Jats particularly targeted non-Jat shops and residences at several places. Four of seven dead whose bodies lie at the Jhajjar Civil Hospital mortuary were identified as non-Jats. More such instances may emerge subsequently as communication is re-established with remote areas.
While Jats targeted public property during previous agitations, protestors ransacked and damaged private property this time. Malls, cinema halls and scores of new cars at showrooms were torched, shops looted and private residences damaged.
The financial losses due to the agitation is yet to be calculated, but it is estimated to vary from Rs 20,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore.
The violence could not have come at a worse time. The state government was preparing to hold a prestigious investors meet early next month to persuade them to set up shop in Haryana. As part of the preparations, Khattar had been visiting various states and had, last week, held an event in Mumbai to build confidence among prospective investors. He had also visited China and Japan recently to woo investors. But with large-scale arson involving public and private property, it will now be a Herculean task for Khattar and his government to attract industry to the state.