Haryana ‘waits for poll rallies as it waits for weddings’ but Khattar’s bucking the trend. Here’s why

In a political space marked by ostentatious public rallies, the CM’s Jan Samvad events, which he began holding on 2 April, are a significant departure. Unlike rallies, where leaders address a crowd of thousands of people, Jan Samvads are characterised by their smaller size and more intimate settings, with no more than a few hundred participants attending any given meeting.

Sources in the state BJP said, the ruling dispensation in Haryana sees such meetings as an effective and timely grievance redressal mechanism.

In 2019, Khattar’s party, the BJP, won all 10 parliamentary seats in Haryana — a feat it’s looking to replicate in next year’s General Election. The party also currently holds 41 seats in the state’s 90-member assembly, and is angling for a third straight term in the assembly polls, due in the second half of next year.

“In whichever assembly constituency the CM saab goes for his Jan Samvad, he stays there for two-three days and holds an equal number of Jan Samvad events. He asks representatives of every category — whether the youth, women, or elderly people — to come out with their grievances. People freely speak about their grievances and complaints against officials,” Praveen Attrey, media secretary to the Khattar government, told ThePrint.

These grievances are then uploaded on the CM’s portal and the concerned authorities automatically get to know these and they have to take action, he added.

“All this is not possible in rallies where the leaders say what they have to say and return home,” Attrey said.

Opposition leaders, like the Congress’s Bhupinder Singh Hooda, claim, however, that Khattar has been forced to fall back on such meetings because the Bharatiya Janata Party-Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) combine government has lost public support and that they cannot mobilise crowds.

“Even the Jan Samvad programmes of the CM were sponsored events where a handpicked crowd was allowed to sit and pre-determined issues were raised before Khattar,” Hooda, a former chief minister of Haryana, alleged, while talking to ThePrint.

While Attrey denied Hooda’s allegations, political observers appear to not completely dismiss the senior Congress leader’s reading of the situation as a possibility.

According to Pawan Kumar Bansal, a political analyst who has been following Haryana politics since 1977, politicians in Haryana have always relied on mega rallies, which not only helped them convey their message effectively, but also acted as a show of strength.

“If Khattar isn’t holding the rallies, it can be either because people are not coming to his rallies or because he prefers smaller meetings for the sake of personal connect with the people,” he said.

While the idea of people’s dialogues is not new to the state, said analysts, they have more often been used as an administrative or governance tool for grievance redressal, but not  as a means of political outreach. But Khattar combining the two, and choosing to hold public dialogues over rallies in the run-up to elections, is what is drawing attention to his Jan Samvads.

In the past two months, Congress’s Hooda has addressed six rallies in the state — a Jan Akrosh rally, two Vipaksh Aapke Samaksh events and three urban public meetings under the Jan Milan Samaroh banner. In comparison, other than Khattar’s Jan Samvad events, the only BJP rally in the state during this time was a government organised official one addressed by Union Minister Amit Shah on 2 November.

Also Read: BJP faces Jat ire for replacing OP Dhankar as Haryana chief — ‘history of unfair treatment’

‘People wait for rallies as they wait for weddings’

According to political observers, rallies and public meetings have always been  the hallmarks of any election campaigning in Haryana, with the state’s politicians vying with each other over who had the bigger rally.

Political analyst Yoginder Gupta told ThePrint that it was Devi Lal — a former deputy prime minister of India, who served as chief minister of Haryana from 1977 to 1979 and then from 1987 to 1989 — who set the benchmark for political rallies in the state.

“When Devi Lal launched his nyaya yudh (fight for justice) against the denial of waters to Haryana from the Satluj Yamuna Link Canal ahead of the 1987 assembly elections in the state, he organised a huge rally at Jind in that year. That rally is still considered the biggest in the history of Haryana, and every time some political leader holds a big rally, old timers measure the crowd by comparing it with it,” he said.

According to Bansal, political rallies often begin in the second half of a government’s five-year term and increase in frequency to at least one rally a week in an election year.

People in Haryana’s hinterland wait for rallies “as they wait for weddings”, he told ThePrint.

Bansal added: “It’s not that the rallies are not in vogue now — other political leaders like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Abhay Singh Chautala (INLD), and even Khattar’s deputy CM, Dushyant Chautala (JJP), still rely on rallies.”

The political analyst felt that one reason for Khattar opting for Jan Samvads could be the kind of crowd that these rallies see — while it’s usually people from rural parts of the state who attend them, Khattar’s and the BJP’s following in Haryana is largely concentrated in urban areas, he said.

But according to Gupta, Khattar’s reasons for picking Jan Samvads over rallies may be the mode of messaging — while the latter is a one-way communication channel, the former can become a platform where people can express what they want from a party, he said.

He added, however, that rallies involve mass mobilisation “which may not be everyone’s cup of tea”.

“The concept of Jan Samvad is not new. Former deputy PM Devi Lal started the ‘Khula Darbar’ (open-door administration) when he was Haryana CM from 1987 to 1989. When his son Om Prakash Chautala got power in 1999, he started ‘Sarkar Aapke Dwar’ (government at your doorstep camp),” Gupta told ThePrint. “In the neighbouring state of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal started Sangat Darshan (meeting people).”

However, such programmes were always used as outreach programmes for governance and administration. “For political purposes, they always believed in holding big political rallies,” Gupta told ThePrint.

‘Sponsored and staged’

Meanwhile, Hooda has alleged that Khattar and the Haryana BJP are finding it hard to pull enough crowds for their rallies. As an example, he cited Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in Karnal this week.

Shah was in Karnal to address the ‘Antouday Mahasammelen’ — an event marking the ninth year of the Khattar government.

“The state government made government officials and university teachers sit on the chairs. Several university teachers told me that they were forced to sit in the rally and the exits were closed so that people don’t leave before it ended,” Hooda alleged.

According to AAP leader Ashok Tanwar, the objectives of a political rally and a Jan Samvad are different, and what a party opts for depends on what needs to be achieved.

“The basic purpose of rallies is to show a party’s strength, which is very important in the run-up to an election, because bigger rallies help parties widen their support base further. Jan Samvad, on the other hand, is for interaction with people and redressal of their grievances,”  Tanwar, a former Congress leader who’s currently the chairman of AAP’s campaign committee in Haryana, told ThePrint.

Like Hooda, Tanwar also claimed that Khattar’s Jan Samvad events were staged, “where people of his [Khattar’s] choice sit and raise issues of his choice”.

“If some genuine people arrive at his Jan Samvad and ask an inconvenient question, they are immediately frisked away by the police,” Tanwar alleged.

The leader was referring to the controversies that have marred Khattar’s Jan Samvad events.

Attending one such event in May this year, a woman sarpanch of Sirsa’s Bani village had thrown her dupatta at the CM’s feet when she was allegedly refused permission to make some demands for her village.

On another occasion the same month, the BJP leader purportedly dismissed as “tutored” a woman’s allegations that her only son died of a drug overdose. A video of this incident had gone viral.

Responding to Tanwar’s allegations, Attrey told ThePrint that the AAP tried to create trouble at one Jan Samvad meeting in Sirsa this May.

He was referring to an incident when the CM had reportedly refused to allow a question from an audience member, identifying him as an AAP worker. A video of this incident, too, had gone viral.

“However, the police have been keeping a vigil now and stopping political activists who try to sneak into Jan Samvad events just to create trouble,” Attrey said.

Attrey also denied Hooda’s allegations that Khattar’s Jan Samvad events were sponsored, putting it down to the Congress leader’s “frustration”.

“Such interactions have never been part of Hooda’s scheme of things, because for him only he and his people matter,” he told ThePrint.

On Hooda’s other allegation regarding the Shah rally, the CM’s media secretary said that Thursday’s Antouday Mahasammelen was an “official event” where Shah launched five Antyodaya upliftment schemes to empower the unprivileged and that it was attended by beneficiaries.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read: Khattar govt says Haryana unemployment rate on decline. NSSO data shows it’s still 2nd highest in India


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