The Congress held its Working Committee meeting on June 4, the first after the poll debacle in Uttar Pradesh. There, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was the first to mention a Kamraj-type plan to make way for the younger generation. He said “Rahulji should play a more central role”, and then offered his resignation, to lead by example.
Hooda needs to be careful — self-fulfilling prophecies and so on. The party might just take him up on his offer.
How could Haryana have slipped so badly downhill and so fast? Every industrialised state in India knows the potential of labour problems and puts in place systems to handle them. But barring Uttar Pradesh, nowhere in India has an HR manager been burnt to death in a worker-management clash. Certainly, the responsibility of running the factory rests with the management. But isn’t law and order the state government’s job? Especially when this is the third or fourth time there has been a labour clash at this plant?
Haryana does not have a history of labour unrest. Nor, for that matter, does it have a history of law-and-order problems. One of its most legendary chief ministers, the late Bansi Lal, made sure of that. Law and order and power supply are the two areas where the state had never faltered. Haryana was one of the first states to reform its power sector, back in 1997. The State Electricity Board was unbundled and reorganised in 1998, yielding to the Haryana Power Generation Corporation Limited. Though state-owned, the utilities have performed well in the past. But lately maintenance problems and lack of coal have made Haryana a sporadically power-deficit state, having to rely more and more on overdrawals from the northern grid.
Law and order has also been crumbling. After the shameful anti-Dalit riots in Mirchpur, there has now been a farmers’ uprising in Rewari, where fertile agricultural land has been notified by the state government for acquisition, to turn it into an industrial estate. The land to be acquired is not a small parcel: almost 3,700 acres. The uprising follows a similar one in Fatehabad against a nuclear power plant. In Rewari, there is a political twist: the region is the sphere of influence of Captain Ajay Yadav, former finance minister in the Hooda government, who met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to complain about the chief minister’s predilection for a particular caste.
This – caste – seems to be the central problem. In 2005, when Hooda first became chief minister, the Congress party had 67 seats in the 90-member Assembly. Every third MLA was from the Congress. If a minister stepped out of line, he could be told he would be sacked if he didn’t behave without any threat to the government. Hooda was Sonia Gandhi’s blue-eyed boy and was showcased as a chief minister who was getting it right.
Then came the 2009 Assembly elections. This time the Congress won just 46 seats out of 90, barely managing to form a government and at the mercy of independents to keep the government stable.
Hooda saw control slipping. Instead of reaching out to form a rainbow coalition, he did what came easily. He capitulated to the most powerful community in Haryana — the Jats.
In caste terms, there are only two groups in Haryana: the Jats and the non-Jats. The Jats are divided between Hooda and Chautala. The non-Jats thought they had a leader in Bhajan Lal but are now virtually leaderless. If Hooda were to decide not to wear his caste-heart so prominently on his sleeve, it is possible that non-Jat castes might have viewed him as the best among the worst — the worst being Om Prakash Chautala, his cronies and his sons. Hooda’s son, Deepinder, is a courteous, well-spoken young man, in stark contrast to the Chautala cherubs.
Having a political base among the Jats is one thing; having a base among bureaucrats is quite another. Jat bureaucrats from anywhere in India have congregated in Haryana. So you have an IAS officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre borrowed by Haryana simply because he is a Jat. Some officers in crucial positions (like important police and intelligence functions) have superannuated, but have been re-employed in the same post only because they speak the same caste language as the chief minister. In Gurgaon, for instance, caste has dictated police postings. The result? Not enough intelligence about the labour tensions building up in Manesar, delays and the final conflagration.
The universal opinion is that Haryana has slipped back several years. In a state that used to pride itself on good governance, this is tragic — especially when a small caste group is the only set of people to gain.