In the last days of electioneering in Haryana, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is following a hectic schedule, addressing six or seven public meetings a day, mostly reaching the venues by helicopter. Lunch often is in the chopper itself. But in the evenings the helicopter is abandoned as he hits the road, continuing the campaign for what the BJP calls Mission 75 — a bid to win at least that many seats in the 90-member assembly.
The 65-year-old leader’s own fight is in Karnal, where 11 other candidates are in the fray. They include former state minorities commission chairman Tarlochan Singh (Congress) and sacked BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav (Jannayak Janta Party).
Khattar won the seat by 63,000 votes in the 2014 assembly elections and was a surprise BJP choice for the chief minister’s post: he is a first-time MLA and became the state’s first non-Jat CM in 18 years.
In the previous assembly election in 2005 and 2009, Sumita Singh of the Congress represented Karnal. In his public meetings ahead of the October 21 polls, Khattar admits he was dubbed a newbie. “There were people who used to say I am new and lack experience. Some even branded me an ‘anadi’ (novice). But now the very same people say I am not an ‘anadi’ but a ‘khiladi’ (player) of politics,” he says.
The Centre’s decision to nullify Article 370 that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status figures often in his speeches as Khattar challenges Congress leaders to make clear their stand on the issue. At a meeting in Tohana in Fatehabad, from where state BJP president Subhash Barala is seeking re-election, Khattar attacks “dynastic politics”, claiming that the culture of “virasat” (inheritance, entitlement) and “riyasat” (bastions) has ended.
“There is a difference between the politics of the BJP and other parties that ruled the state earlier. They promoted ‘parivarvad’ (family rule), we opposed it,” he says. “We are living in a democracy now, but they used to say it is my ‘riyasat’.” He plays with words, reminding that some leaders are currently in “hirasat” (behind the bars), a clear reference to Indian National Lok Dal president and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala who is serving time for corruption in recruitment of government teachers.
Khattar speaks in Punjabi at Tohana, asking the gathering to be wary of “false promises”. Implementing the Congress manifesto requires an unrealistic sum of Rs 1.25 lakh crore, he claims. While the opposition targets the BJP on unemployment, an alleged mining scam and indifference towards farmers, Khattar claims his government gave the state development and a clean and transparent administration. “They always filled their coffers, indulged in corruption and favouritism,” he says, referring to the previous governments. He also accuses them of regional bias.
“Haryana has emerged as a model state in the country,” he claims. He also touches upon the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ and `Swachhta’ campaigns launched by the Narendra Modi government at the Centres. In a media interaction, Khattar dismisses the opposition.
“The opposition is in disarray. Everyone knows the situation the Congress is in, it is a divided house. The JJP is a party formed by the son, the father and the mother, and everyone knows the plight of the INLD. So, on individual seats there may be a contest, but overall there is no direct fight,” he says.
Khattar joined the RSS as a full-time ‘pracharak’ in 1980 and was moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party as a general secretary in Haryana in mid-1990s. From six legislators in 2000 to two in 2005 and just four in 2009, the BJP created history in the 2014 assembly elections, winning 47 seats and forming its first-ever government in the state.