Influential OBC face Saini takes oath as Haryana CM with five Cabinet colleagues

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Chandigarh, March 12 (IANS) First-time BJP MP Nayab Singh Saini was sworn in as the Haryana Chief Minister on Tuesday, along with five Cabinet colleagues.

Saini’s name was unanimously decided during the party’s meeting after incumbent Manohar Lal Khattar and the entire cabinet, comprising three members of Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s JJP — stepped down in the morning.

With a stronghold over the OBC community that comprises eight per cent in the state, Saini, who touched the feet of Khattar before and after taking the oath in Hindi, will be the Chief Minister for seven months till the state goes to the polls.

The Saini caste has a sizeable population in Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar, Ambala, Hisar, and Rewari districts.

Kanwar Pal Gujjar, Mool Chand Sharma, Ranjit Singh Chautala, J.P. Dalal, and Banwarilal took oath as ministers.

Governor Bandaru Dattatreya administered the oath of office to them at a ceremony in Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh. However, former Home and Health Minister Anil Vij was conspicuously absent from the oath-taking ceremony that started 20 minutes before the scheduled time.

Vij left the morning meeting as soon as Saini’s name was proposed.

The outgoing Cabinet comprised 14 ministers, including Khattar and three members of the JJP.

In the 90-member Haryana Assembly, the BJP has 41 MLAs, while the JJP has 10. The ruling combine also enjoys the support of six of the seven independents, taking it past the halfway mark of 45 seats.

As per sources, Khattar will be contesting the Lok Sabha elections. He is expected to be fielded from Karnal.

Khattar’s own man Sanjay Bhatia — also a Punjabi face who won by a margin of 6.5 lakh votes in 2019, the second-highest victory margin in the country, may replace Saini as the party’s state chief.

In 2019, the BJP had won all the state’s 10 seats.

Political observers told IANS that Saini’s elevation to the top post is being seen as to consolidate the non-Jat and OBC votes. Also, it is an attempt to counter anti-incumbency against Khattar, who has been at the helm since 2014. In the caste politics of Haryana, the Jat — a landowning community that accounts for around 25 per cent of the state’s population — support is largely divided among the Congress, the Jannayak Janata Party, and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

BJP insiders say apart from being an OBC and close to Khattar, old association with the RSS also helped Saini to reach the helm.

“It is a BJP’s strategy to secure the support of sub-castes within the other backward castes,” a BJP leader told IANS.

Saini, a Lok Sabha MP from Kurukshetra who won the seat with a hefty vote margin of over 3.83 lakhs, was appointed as state BJP chief last October. Born in 1970, Saini entered politics almost 30 years ago. He was elected as an MLA from Narayangarh in the 2014 Assembly polls. He was inducted into the Cabinet in 2016. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Saini contested and won from the Kurukshetra constituency, defeating Congress’s Nirmal Singh by a huge margin.




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