Change of Face: ML Khattar’s ouster was looming large in view of feedback from the ground - Hindustan Times
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Change of Face: ML Khattar’s ouster was looming large in view of feedback from the ground

By, Chandigarh
Mar 24, 2024 06:56 AM IST

Two-time Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar ousted by BJP high command, making way for new government amid anti-incumbency sentiment.

Blurb “As CM he won’t hear us out. The MLAs were not allowed to air their grievances. There was a change from the way he functioned in the first stint. Seems he did not have the patience to listen to us.”- BJP MLAs

Manohar Lal Khattar (HT File)
Manohar Lal Khattar (HT File)

The sudden exit of two-time Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on March 12 came as no surprise. Khattar who has been the most prominent face of the party for over nine years in Haryana was made to tender his papers by the BJP high command in a rather unceremonious manner on March 12 paving the way for the formation of a new government sans its 2019 post-poll alliance partner, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP).

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Manohar Lal Khattar’s ouster though was a part of the BJP’s trademark strategy to change faces to overcome a strong anti-incumbency sentiment of the party’s rule of over nine years in Haryana, BJP sources said that his exit was looming large in view of the adverse feedback the saffron party and the RSS was getting from the ground.

Speculations about him being replaced by the BJP leadership were doing the rounds since 2022. However, the party found an opportune moment just before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and Khattar’s exit was timed in conjunction with the severing of ties with Dushyant Chautala’s JJP.

“Khattar’s public outreach was unimpressive. The Jan Samvad programme started by him was a desperate attempt to salvage himself. But the program did not yield desired results. There were instances when he ticked off people who attended the programmes,” said a BJP functionary who did not wish to be named.

Many of Khattar’s party colleagues say that the former chief minister scored well by not having any allegations against him during his tenure, his interpersonal communication skills, vital for a politician, took a beating.

BJP MLAs say that Khattar as chief minister won’t hear them out. “During meetings, he would profusely narrate a list of things he did for our constituencies. But it was a one-sided lecture. The legislators were not allowed to put across the issues that affected them politically. There was a change from the way he functioned in the first stint. I would say he did not have the patience to listen to us. It was an- I know everything- kind of a scenario,’’ said a party MLA on the condition of anonymity.

Former union minister Birender Singh whose MP son Brijendra Singh recently quit the BJP to join the Congress, says that Khattar was found wanting in terms of performance as a chief minister of nine years. “He could not establish his credentials as the chief minister of a vibrant state. Being an RSS ‘pracharak’, Manohar Lal could not think beyond a set framework. His digitisation efforts were not popular with the public,’’ he said. Singh however said that in the course of his stint as chief minister, Khattar did learn the ropes of politics to an extent. “But that must have also been a contributing factor in his ouster. The BJP leadership does not like anyone to become too tall for them. The changes in the leadership effected by the party in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh after the assembly polls stand testimony to this fact,’’ the former union minister said.

BJP sticking with senior ministers in the cabinet reconstitution

Political experts say that the move to overcome anti-incumbency by ousting Khattar and Dushyant would get counterbalanced by repeating six MLAs who held ministerial berths in the Khattar government in Nayab Saini Council of Ministers.

Prof Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist at Panjab University, Chandigarh, says the BJP high command should have gone for a complete revamp. “Sticking with Khattar’s ministers won’t help in tiding over anti-incumbency. Maybe there are not many options or maybe the party leadership suspected subversion if they went for a complete overhaul,’’ Prof Kumar said.

Prof Kumar said the former chief minister would be best remembered for trying to make recruitments in government jobs in a fair manner. “He broke the monopoly of a dominant caste in a subtle manner and negated perception that a particular class was dominant. He was seen as having a clean image as no major scandal broke out during his rule. He was regarded as simple, well-meaning and an old-world politician,’’ he said.

Prof Kumar said where Khattar fell short was his inability to become a mass leader. “Being a Punjabi-Khatri, he was not regarded as a home-grown politician and a son of the soil. His image was more of a Modi’s boy. I would say it was humiliating the way he was removed,’’ he said.

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