In its three years in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Haryana has seen a hat-trick of administrative failures, which has led to much violence, damage to public and private property and spillage of blood.

When the BJP won the 2014 Assembly elections in the state, Manohar Lal Khattar was catapulted to the chief minister’s post because of his close personal relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Before he emerged as the dark horse for the top post, very few outside the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh knew him. He was an RSS pracharak for many years in Haryana. In 1996, when Modi was put in charge of Haryana by the BJP, Khattar shared accommodation with him in Panchkula, the Haryana township adjoining Chandigarh.

Khattar had never occupied any public post till he was thrust to the top political seat in Haryana in 2014. He is evidently a slow learner. He has showed no political and administrative acumen so far, stumbling from one blunder to another in the three years he has headed the state.

Three strikes

Khattar’s first test came in November, 2014, a month after he was sworn in, when another religious leader, Baba Rampal, accused of murder, used his devotees as shields when the police arrived at his ashram near Barwala in Haryana to arrest him on the directions of a court. Rampal’s supporters clashed with security forces, and the Army had to be deployed to deal with the situation. Rampal was finally arrested, but six people died in the standoff.

Then in 2016, Khattar’s government was unable to tackle violence during the agitation by Jats for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions. Property worth crores was damaged across Haryana, especially in the city of Rohtak, and several people were killed before the Army was called out to bring the situation under control.

The violence following the conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh by a CBI court in a rape case – which has spread to other parts of Haryana and even Delhi – is the third situation in three years that the Khattar government has failed to get a handle on.

Protesters in Sonipat, Haryana, set shops on fire during the Jat agitation in 2016. (Photo credit: PTI)

Call for resignation

It is no surprise then that not just Opposition leaders from the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal, even members of the BJP have demanded Khattar’s removal as chief minister.

A member of the Haryana council of ministers, who did not want to be identified, said that he had seen Khattar functioning from close quarters and wondered how a person occupying such a seat of power refused to learn. He said that the chief minister would ignore suggestions from his party colleagues and would depend only on his set of advisers from the RSS, who are also novices in the business of state administration.

When the BJP won the 2014 Assembly elections, several experienced leaders hoped to be elevated to the chief minister’s post. These included six-time legislator Ram Bilas Sharma and four-time legislator Anil Vij, who is now the health minister.

Despite being a cabinet minister, Vij has been critical of several decisions made by the chief minister and has raised questions about Khattar’s leadership abilities many times. Ram Bilas Sharma has been known to criticise Khattar privately but has refrained from doing so in public.

Though there are murmurs of resentment among several other top party leaders in the state, no one is keen on coming on record against someone they see as Modi’s nominee. Off the record, however, they say that unless there is a change of guard, the BJP is doomed in the state. Elections to the state Assembly are due a few months after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The last straw?

While there is no doubt that the Centre has been protecting Khattar, the latest series of incidents and his totally inept handling of the situation, may be the proverbial last straw.

Though everyone expected violence to break out if the Dera Sacha Sauda chief was convicted, the government did little in the seven days it had between the day the date of the judgment was announced and the day the verdict was pronounced. The government allowed Dera supporters to gather in droves in Panchkula and did not attempt to hold them back in their home towns or even at the border of Panchkula, Chandigarh and Mohali.

The Opposition Congress has demanded that the state government be dismissed but that is an unlikely scenario with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. However, despite the complete hold he has over the government and party, Modi might find it difficult to continue to protect his protégé for long. If he does persist in doing so, his party may have to pay the price, at least in Haryana, where there is growing resentment against the government, which, besides failing to control the law and order situation, has done little as far as administration of the state is concerned.

Khattar’s position has indeed become untenable in view of the current situation and the state government’s complete mishandling of the violence by Dera Sacha Sauda supporters. The BJP leadership cannot afford to defend him for too long.