Haryana, riddled with caste politics, is now witnessing a new demand – for a Brahmin chief minister.
At the forefront of this demand is Bharatiya Janata party leader and Member of Parliament from Rohtak, Arvind Sharma. Sharma is a Brahmin leader.
The MP first raised the demand at an event at Rohtak’s Pehrawar village on May 23. The event was held to hand over a piece of panchayat land to the Gaur Brahmin community who want to build community school and college on it.
Brahmin leaders of other political parties, notably Naveen Jaihind of Aam Aadmi Party, Congress MLA Kuldeep Vats, Jannayak Janata Party MLA Ram Kumar Gautam and independent MLA Balraj Kundu were also present at the event.
The event also marked the birth anniversary of Brahim scholar and warrior Parshuram. “Fifty-six years ago when Haryana was formed in 1966, Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma was the first [and only Brahim] CM of the state. But for how many months did he remain? Six months. When will the remaining 4.5 years of chief ministership be given?” Sharma said, to loud cheers.
He added that there was a time when there were Brahmin chief ministers in 50% of Indian states but this is no longer the case.
In Haryana, he alleged, Ram Bilas Sharma was “cheated” when he was not made chief minister in 2014 after BJP had first secured a majority in the state.
Ram Bilas Sharma. Photo: Twitter/@rbsharmabjp
“I am not against the selection of Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi, for the post of chief minister. Punjabis too are our brothers. But what mistake had Ram Bilas Sharma made in 2014 for him to be cheating so badly? The government was formed by using his [Ram Bilas’s] name. Everything took place because of his name. But when the time to announce a CM came, he was thrown out like a thorn, he was ignored,” Sharma said.
BJP distances itself from Sharma’s statement
BJP distanced itself from Sharma’s line and state president O.P. Dhankar even asked him to not make such statements in public. A section of party leaders are wary that his “Brahmin chief minister pitch” may disturb the party’s hard-earned social coalition around non-Jat communities.
In the last 56 years of Haryana’s existence, chief ministers of the dominant Jat community – once represented by Devi Lal and the Chautala clan before Congress’s Bhupinder Hooda came into the picture – ruled the state for over 32 years.
Congress leader Bhajan Lal of the Bishnoi community was the first popular non-Jat leader who ruled the state for over 11 years.
Later, BJP occupied the space when it formed its first majority government in the state in 2014 and gave the command to non-Jat leader Manohar Lal Khattar.
But chinks were visible in the party strategy when it fell short of majority in 2019 assembly polls and had to stitch the gap by entering into a post-poll alliance with a splinter group of Chautala’ family, Jannayak Janata Party.
Many feel that that statements of leaders like Arvind Sharma may create restlessness among communities supporting the BJP when AAP, after a massive victory in neighbouring Punjab, is following the BJP footsteps in wooing them as well.
The event in which BJP MP Arvind Sharma made the statement was in fact the handiwork of AAP’s former state president Naveen Jaihind who was the first to take the lead in mobilising the Brahmin community against the Khattar government to get ownership rights of the contested piece of land.
Brahmins in Haryana, comprising 8% of the state’s population, have decent influence numerically.
Congress, which in Hooda’s time banked on Jat community support, has lately also begun to give space to leaders of other communities as well, as reflected in eight former MLAs joining Congress on May 24, 2022.
Building momentum for a leadership change?
Dr Vijay Chauhan, assistant professor and head of the department of political science, Maharana Pratap National College, says that Arvind Sharma’s statement may have more than what meets the eye.
In his address, he also publicly humiliated Khattar by questioning his leadership qualities when he said that the chief minister does not apply his mind before taking decisions.
Chauhan says Sharma may be building momentum for a leadership change in Haryana. BJP has a history of changing chief ministers before elections. It was done in Uttarakhand, Karnataka and most recently in Tripura, he says.
“In Haryana, there is no doubt that there are serious governance issues in the current BJP government. Crime has increased. Unemployment is up and even corruption is an issue in rural area,” says the professor.
While Arvind Sharma rushed to Delhi to meet the party’s national president J.P. Nadda a day after his statement, Dr. Kushal Pal, professor of political science at Dyal Singh College in Karnal, however, said Sharma’s outburst is guided more by local factors.
Pal said Khattar is a close confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the days when Modi was organisational in-charge of the party here. “As long as he enjoys the prime minister’s patronage, his position is unshakeable,” he said.
He added that Sharma may have been trying to consolidate his own position within his community after he felt the jolt over his own government’s lacklustre response to the demand of the local Gaur Brahmin community over ownership of the contested land. On the other hand, AAP had begun utilising the community’s anger for its political advantage.
Local sources say that Sharma was also miffed with former BJP MLA from Rohtak, Manish Grover, who is learnt to be a close confidant of Khattar.