Khattar 2.0 and the other two

His return as Haryana CM was supposed to be a cakewalk, it was anything but. The changed power equation means Manohar Lal Khattar’s second term in office is not entirely on his terms. With a new Deputy CM and a combative Home Minister, Khattar has had to rework the all-powerful confidence that defined latter part of his first stint. So, is a troika in control? Not exactly. Three months into the second tenure, it’s still Khattar’s show, reports Sushil Manav

Khattar 2.0 and the other two

(L-R) IN ACTION: Anil Vij is not known to be passive, new assignment has only re-energised him; HIS OWN MAN: ML Khattar has had to be more accommodative, but retains his style ; TALL ORDER: He has lofty ambitions, but it’s still early days for Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala.

CM sheds weight, but still calls the shots

As Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar heads Haryana in his second term, challenges of a different kind beset his government.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose him to lead Haryana in 2014 after the BJP secured a majority in the state Assembly for the first time on its own since 1966, the birth of Haryana, a major challenge before Khattar was that his senior ministerial colleagues were not ready to accept him as their leader.

TALK IN POLITICAL CIRCLES

The alliance helped the BJP in achieving numbers, but there is no commonality in ideologies. This directionless government’s only achieve-ment so far has been hiking social security pension by Rs50, as Rs200 hike was already on. — Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Former CM

.

The initial three years of his regime saw three major acts of violence — Rampal Ashram, Jat quota and Dera Sacha Sauda — which posed a big question mark on his ability to lead. However, results of elections to the Municipal Corporations of Rohtak, Karnal, Panipat, Hisar and Yamunanagar in 2018 and the Jind Assembly bypoll in 2019 suddenly catapulted Khattar’s reputation to being an able administrator and an electoral winner.

His poll managers made ‘transparent’ recruitments in the state a major plank and the response was viewed as a stamp of acceptance of his style of governance.

TALK IN POLITICAL CIRCLES

I have never seen a CM and his seniormost minister fight over a department. Also, there can be no common ideology between Khattar and Dushyant Chautala because they were diametrically opposed to each other before the elections. The alliance is merely to remain in power. — Kumari Selja, State Congress President

Image building and setback

The Lok Sabha elections held in May last year in which the BJP made a clean sweep winning all the 10 seats and in the process defeating former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his son Deepender Hooda from Sonepat and Rohtak, respectively, strengthened the perception that Khattar had emerged as a huge electoral force for the BJP in Haryana.

Khattar then set out on his statewide ‘Jan Sampark Rath Yatra’ as a precursor to the campaign for the October Assembly polls with the slogan of ‘Abki Baat, 75 Paar’. However, the polls proved an anti-climax for Khattar, and his party had to be content with 40 seats in the 90-member House.

TALK IN POLITICAL CIRCLES

Deputy CM is nothing but a minister. The bureaucracy has become so powerful under Khattar that neither Dushyant nor other ministers are able to do anything. — Abhay Singh Chautala, INLD Leader

With seven Independents and Gopal Kanda of the Haryana Lokhit Party offering support, it seemed that Khattar would easily form a government. Hard bargaining by some Independents and questions raised over seeking support from tainted Sirsa MLA Gopal Kanda forced the saffron party to enter into an alliance with Dushyant Chautala’s JJP, which had won 10 seats.

Changed power dynamics

In the bargain for support, the BJP had to offer the Deputy CM’s post to Dushyant Chautala and also as many as 11 key portfolios with two more ministerial berths to the JJP.

With Dushyant as Deputy CM and to balance the power equation, Anil Vij, the seniormost BJP MLA, was given the mighty Home portfolio.

BUZZ IN BUREAUCRATIC CORRIDORS

The Cabinet of Khattar 1.0 was quite weighty, the present one is full of lightweights. They had Capt Abhimanyu, who was quite knowledgeable and sharp, OP Dhankar who was an expert of his ministry and Ram Bilas Sharma, a politician with mass following. This Cabinet has an experience and talent deficit.— Senior Bureaucrat, not willing to be named

Three months into Khattar 2.0, the CM has had to face embarrassing situations twice due to Vij’s brush with his office over transfers of IPS officers and with the CID chief, ADGP Anil Kumar Rao, over the ‘delay’ in providing information. However, Khattar chose to resolve the issue with the intervention of the central leadership of the BJP.

Vij, too, denied any “difference” with Khattar. “The CM is a good friend. My fight is only against officers who consider as if they are running the government,” Vij said.

BUZZ IN BUREAUCRATIC CORRIDORS

Dushyant Chautala and Anil Vij may be de jure and de facto number 2 in Khattar’s Cabinet, but there is a lot of difference in their functioning. Dushyant is more of a soft-spoken politician who does not try to assert himself. Vij’s sparring with the CM seems an attempt at getting a foothold.— Senior Bureaucrat, not willing to be named.

A new controversy erupted when government websites showed that the CID was with the CM and not Vij’s Home Department. Khattar later said the department had been with the CM even during the tenures of Devi Lal and Bansi Lal.

Despite such issues, Khattar seems sitting pretty in the saddle with many important portfolios with him. Though often seen as trying to strike a balance between his party’s agenda and the one of alliance partner JJP, there is no doubt in political and bureaucratic circles that it is Khattar who is calling the shots.


At home with dept, Vij gets down to active duty

If Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala is the de jure number two in the Khattar Cabinet, Anil Vij occupies this position de facto with the key portfolio of Home under his belt and the aura he carries. The six-time MLA from Ambala Cantonment is the seniormost BJP legislator in the Assembly. When his seniority was ignored in 2014 by placing first-time legislators like Capt Abhimanyu and OP Dhankar ahead of him in the Cabinet ranking, Vij made his displeasure known. When all senior ministers of the Khattar 1.0 Cabinet lost in the 2019 elections — only Vij and junior minister Banwari Lal could retain their seats — Vij was certain to be named No. 2 .

However, BJP’s compulsion to go in for an alliance with the JJP forced the party to offer the post of Deputy CM to Dushyant. Political observers point out that Haryana CMs don’t like to part with Home, but Khattar had to give the portfolio to Vij to strike a balance between him and Dushyant.

Game for a fight

Media-savvy with a penchant to react to any issue brought to his notice, Vij remained in the midst of controversies during his first term, and continues to be his belligerent self. During Khattar’s first term, Vij had a brush with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Haryana Police; he had even alleged snooping on his office. The Minister’s displeasure with the CID continues in the second term, evident in his recent comments that the CID was not functioning properly and he would need to revamp it.

Vij has ordered a committee — comprising Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Vijai Vardhan, KP Singh (DG, Vigilance) and PR Deo (DG, Home Guards and Civil Defence) — to suggest changes to the department. He even sought an explanation from the state Intelligence agency’s chief, ADGP Anil Kumar Rao, for allegedly not providing the information pertaining to the CID report on the Assembly polls. Before this, Vij had also written a dissent note to Chief Minister Khattar against the transfer of certain IPS officers without taking him into confidence.

One tough cookie

When all this was going on, the state Assembly’s website started showing that CID vests with the CM, not with Vij. However, the moment Vij put his foot down, the information on portfolios went off the website.

Vij is no stranger to controversies. Chairing the meeting of District Grievances and Public Relations Committee at Fatehabad in 2015, Vij had ordered a woman IPS officer, Sangeeta Kalia, to get out. He himself walked out when the officer stood her ground. Heading such meetings in various districts over the last five years, Vij has ordered

the suspension of a number of officials for lapses. During his visits, Vij would often go to the terrace of government buildings to check whether the water storage tanks were being cleaned or not.

He would stop at any government office or police station and check the attendance. Such is his fear that officials privately address him as “Gabbar Singh”. Vij is aware of the sobriquet, and apparently relishes it.

Despite his stern image, Vij is quite considerate too. Recently, while on his way to Delhi, Vij suspended a woman ASI in Panipat because she was found absent during a raid he had conducted. But when she told him that she had gone to her house to use the washroom because there was no separate toilet for women in the police station, he immediately revoked her suspension and ordered construction of separate toilets for women in police stations across the state.

Vij is also very active on social media and keeps tweeting against leaders, right from Rahul Gandhi, sister Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi to the state-level leaders. He is his own man, Anil Vij. And sets his own terms.


Dushyant stands tall, may fall short on promises

Dushyant Chautala’s rise in Haryana politics has been meteoric. Within 10 months of launching his party, Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), on December 9, 2018, the 32-year-old Business Administration and Management graduate from USA took oath as Deputy CM of Haryana along with Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on October 27, 2019.

Dushyant’s JJP won 10 seats in the Assembly elections held in October last year. The elections saw the BJP stranded at 40 seats, six short of the majority, with the Congress winning 31 and Independents seven seats.

While Dushyant and his team, including mother Naina Chautala and younger brother Digvijay Chautala, toiled for the 10 seats that the party won, luck played a vital role in catapulting the young JJP leader to the position of Deputy CM. At least half of the JJP MLAs joined Dushyant’s outfit hours before the filing of nominations was to end after their parties refused them a ticket. Also, Dushyant should be thankful to BJP leader Uma Bharti — her tweets against efforts to form a government with the help of tainted Sirsa MLA Gopal Kanda forced the BJP to seek JJP’s support.

The beginning

Dushyant, standing 6 feet, 3 inches tall, had entered electoral politics with a victory over Kuldeep Bishnoi in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, the defeat against BJP’s Brijendra Singh in Hisar in the 2019 parliamentary polls came as a huge setback. He returned with a bang a few months later, defeating former Union minister Birendra Singh’s wife from Uchana Kalan. His nine victorious candidates gave him the scope for a hard bargain in the coalition with the BJP.

With 11 important portfolios, including Excise and Taxation, Development and Panchayats, Industries and Commerce, Public Works (Buildings and Roads), Food, Civil Supplies and Consumers Affairs, etc., under his belt, Dushyant has emerged as one of the most powerful politicians of the state.

Dushyant made his presence felt in the very first meeting after the expansion of Khattar’s Cabinet when he flagged the issue of bogus purchase of paddy by millers across the state, knowing well that the majority of the rice millers were from Karnal, the CM’s constituency.

Dushyant’s elevation has also helped the BJP assuage the annoyance of the Jat community, which was visible during the Assembly polls. Even as BJP’s all big Jat leaders — Subhash Barala, Capt Abhimanyu and OP Dhankar — tasted defeat, Dushyant’s induction as Deputy CM and Independent Ranjit Singh’s as Cabinet minister helped the government earn the goodwill of the majority community to some extent. With a team of media managers working for him, Dushyant has always remained in the news — at times even more than the Chief Minister.

Challenges ahead

Dushyant has been taking a lot of flak for joining hands with the BJP. The biggest and most unexpected criticism came from his own grandfather, Om Prakash Chautala. Out of Tihar for 14 days on parole on health grounds, Chautala had lashed out on his grandson for “ditching” the INLD. Besides, he is under pressure from his own Jat community, which voted for his candidates in huge numbers. Most of them did not like the JJP extending support to the BJP. Dushyant’s supporters are also looking at how effectively he gets the coalition government to implement his election promises.

One of his major promises was giving Rs 5,100 per month as social security pension to senior citizens and other categories of beneficiaries. However, Khattar seems to have settled the issue for now by raising the pension by Rs 250, saying an increase of Rs 160 was because of the price rise, and the remaining Rs 90 was being given on the request of the JJP.

Since there is no headway so far on the report to be given by the Common Minimum Programme committee, it remains to be seen how Dushyant fulfils his other promises like reservation of 75 per cent jobs for Haryana youths in private units.

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