From ML Khattar’s aide to Haryana CM: The rise of Nayab Saini | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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From ML Khattar’s aide to Haryana CM: The rise of Nayab Saini

By, Chandigarh
Mar 13, 2024 07:10 AM IST

Nayab Saini, 54, to become Haryana's 11th chief minister. Rising through BJP ranks, from state president to CM, with close ties to predecessor Khattar.

By Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that 54-year-old Nayab Saini was to set to become the eleventh man to be Haryana’s chief minister since the state was formed in 1966. He stood at the head of a packed room of BJP MLAs at Chandigarh’s Haryana Niwas, receiving bouquets from four other senior party leaders around him. In some ways, the identity of two of the four men told the story of a party where it is no longer unusual for chief ministers to be changed mid-term. On his left was state in-charge, Biplab Deb, once Tripura chief minister in the first BJP government in the state in 25 years, but replaced four years into his first term. And to his right was Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of Haryana for nine years; the man who brought Saini into politics; and the man whose position Saini was taking over.

Haryana chief minister Naib Singh Saini (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)
Haryana chief minister Naib Singh Saini (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)

Read here: Haryana twist: Nayab Saini replaces Khattar as CM, BJP cuts ties with JJP

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Born in January 25,1970, in Mirzapur Majra village in Ambala district, Saini, who has a BA degree from the BR Ambedkar Bihar University in Muzaffarpur and a law degree from Chaudhary Charan Singh University in Meerut, began his association with both the BJP and its ideological parent, the RSS in 1996. He began quietly rising through the ranks after the turn of the century — he was appointed the general secretary of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha in 2002, and became the president of the same unit by 2005.

By 2009, Saini had made his first electoral plunge from the constituency of Naraingarh, till then a seat the BJP had never won. That first election was a bridge too far, and Saini came in fifth behind eventual winner Ram Kishan of the Congress, winning only 6.86% of the vote. Five years later, as the BJP rode to power in Haryana, Saini turned the constituency around, winning 39.76% of the vote, and beating the incumbent MLA Ram Kishan by over 24,000 votes.

He became a member of the Khattar cabinet as minister of state for labour and employment and mines and geology between 2014 and 2019, and then fought the Lok Sabha elections, entering Parliament as the member of Parliament from Kurukshetra, which he won by a margin just shy of 400,000 votes. On October 27, 2023, Saini rose within the ranks even more, replacing heavyweight Om Dhankar as the state BJP president.

The decision to elevate Saini to party president is built around the kernel of a strategy that has served the party well. In a state which has always been dominated by the influential Jat population, the BJP has found ways to coalesce the non-Jat vote around its candidates, first appointing Khattar, a Punjabi, as chief minister. In October then, it replaced Dhankar, a powerful Jat leader with the OBC Saini as party president and now as chief minister. “The support of the Jats is largely seen to be divided among the Congress, the Jannayak Janta Party(JJP) and the Indian National Lok Dal,” one BJP leader, explaining the approach.

The Sainis, the community the new chief minister is from, form close to 8% of the population in Haryana, but NFHS data pegs the larger OBC population at a significant 28.6%. The Sainis themselves are particularly influential in northern Haryana in districts such as Ambala, Kurukshetra, Hisar and Rewari. Former Ambala BJP president Rajesh Bataura said, “The party has made a good decision to choose Saini. This is for the first time a chief minister has been chosen from the Ambala district and this will help us in the region.”

But the other constant in Saini’s rise has been his close relationship with the 69-year-old Manohar Lal Khattar.

One senior BJP leader said that Saini has worked in the organisation for over three decades, but began his career as one of Khattar’s aides. “In the middle of 90s, when Khattar worked in the organisation of the RSS and the party, he (Saini) used to drive his car. He was always around Khattar, and would do all kinds of work for him, such as carrying his notes. He has worked his way up, and is exceptionally humble,” the first BJP leader said.

A second BJP leader pointed out that in 2014, when Saini first became a minister in the Haryana cabinet, he was a first time legislator picked by Khattar, and after he became an MP, he was made vice president of the state OBC morcha. “Even his elevation as Haryana BJP chief was seen as a message that the central leadership was fully backing chief minister Khattar,” this leader said.

The BJP will be hoping that the change in guard counteracts any anti-incumbency against Khattar, who rode out the start of law and order crises both during the Jat agitation in 2016 and by supporters of Baba Ram Rahim in the wake of his conviction in 2017, even surviving the BJP’s lack of a clear majority in 2019.

Read here: Nayab Saini takes oath as Haryana chief minister; 5 ministers also sworn in. Check list

This strategy, which the BJP has employed on at least four occasions since 2021, has not always been successful. In Gujarat and Tripura, Vijay Rupani and Biplab Deb were replaced by Bhupendra Patel and Manik Sarkar respectively, with the party going on to win the next assembly elections. In Uttarakhand however, Trivendra Singh Rawat was removed four years into his term by Tirath Singh Rawat, but four months later, they were forced into another switch, with Pushkar Singh Dhami leading them into assembly elections in 2022. In Karnataka, powerful Lingayat leader BS Yediyurappa was replaced by Basavaraj Bommai, but two years later, the BJP lost its only government in southern India.

Immediately ahead of Saini, are two key political challenges – the summer’s Lok Sabha elections where the BJP holds all 10 seats, and then the assembly elections where the party will hope to win majority for the third time. As the BJP heads into these battles, led by the man who represents Kurukshetra – where the Mahabharata was fought – Saini’s first act on Tuesday evening once he took oath, was to walk to Manohar Lal Khattar on stage, and touch his feet.

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