Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is lucky his police chief is not BS Bassi.
While delivering a speech in Rohtak on Tuesday, he was shouted down by an angry mob and forced to abandon it midway. Tempers ran so high that at some other place, under a police chief like Bassi and surrounded by black-coats and flag-wavers, the pracharak-turned-CM may have regretted his decision to step out of his chamber from where he watched most of the violence past week.
Later, as he addressed the press from the safety of a government building, chants of murdabad and hai-hai provided the background score.
Khattar has earned some of the ridicule and hai-hai he is getting. Throughout the Jat agitation, and even before that, he acted like a rabbit caught in the glare of a headlight. In the end, even the BJP high command ran out of patience and confined him to the role of a spectator by asking Haryana MP Chaudhary Birendra Singh and UP Jat strongman Sanjeev Baliyan to negotiate with the protesters.
Character, it is often said, is not made in a crisis. It is revealed in it. With his inept handling of the situation, Khattar has proven that he may have the credentials for being an aadarsh pracharak, but anointing him the CM of Haryana was the BJP's way of proving right Peter's principle of every man rising to his level of incompetence.
And, Khattar himself is a prime example of that famous Bollywood song: Sab kuch luta kar hosh mein aaye to kya hua?
The demand for Jat reservation isn't new. It has its genesis in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government's decision to include Jats of Rajasthan in the central list of OBCs. Since then Jats of other states have also staked claim to quota benefits.
In December 2012, the Bhupendra Singh Hooda-led Congress government granted 10 per cent reservation to Jats. This was based on the report of Backward Classes Commission set up by Hooda. On the basis of the recommendations of the committee, Jats and four other castes, Jat Sikhs, Ror, Tyagi and Bishnoi, were included under Specially Backward Classes.
But this was set aside by the High Court since the SC had discarded the report of the commission. A review petition filed by the Khattar government is pending before the Supreme Court.
Since then, Jats had been threatening to start an agitation for their demand. But, Khattar ignored their threats and remained under the illusion that the crisis will blow over.
In the meantime, he allowed his Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini to start a caste Mahabharat. Saini made a series of inflammatory speeches, inciting Jats, promising retribution and calling them names. In an unverified video, he is heard calling the community members sons of a particular animal. But, Saini was asked to shut up only after the protest turned violent.
The agitation in Haryana began almost a week before it turned violent. After a modest beginning in Rohtak, by Sunday (February 14) it had spread to Sonepat, Jhajhar and Bhiwani. By then protesters had blocked many highways and roads, cutting off Haryana from Delhi. By Tuesday, Haryana had started running out of fuel, milk and other essential supplies.
But Khattar, who has spent more time protecting the cow and propagating the Gita, forgot its basic teachings: perform your karma. And, when the protests became violent, his government capitulated without a whimper by announcing that it will table a bill in the Assembly for 10 per cent reservation to Jats.
This begs the question: If Khattar had to ultimately surrender to blackmail and toe Hooda's line, why did he throw in the towel after violence claimed 19 lives and protesters burnt down parts of Haryana into the stone age?
As an editorial in the Tribune points out, "What finally calmed the raging Jats was the acceptance of their demands in toto at the Delhi Durbar, even if the very feasibility of the OBC reservation is something no one can vouch for. If this is the kind of surrender the government had to accept, why was the state allowed to burn for two days and nights?"
The conduct of the Rohtak IG perhaps best defines the pusillanimity of the Haryana government. According to media reports, that when a protester died in retaliatory firing by the BSF, the Rohtak IG Srikant Jadhav, hid in his home, scared that the mob will now target him. As a result, a huge contingent of cops was deployed outside his home to protect the IG, instead of the city.
The irony of Khattar's politics is that he is now falling between politics of non-Jats (that the BJP represented during elections) and appeasement of Jats (that the BJP has now come to represent).
With his own cabinet divided, non-Jats angry with his inability to protect them and Jats having tasted blood, Khattar looks more vulnerable than the cows he has devoted most of his tenure to protect.
And if the BJP doesn't take a lenient view of his failure, he may be forced to do what he advises children to do: Read the Gita in retirement.