Haryana CM Nayab Singh Saini | Younger legs for the race

The unexpected is to be expected: that’s by now a motto in the BJP’s tactical playbook. But it always leaves a vast pool of possibilities. Where—rather, against whose name—would the roulette’s needle stop? The tall, lanky, bearded figure of Nayab Singh Saini is where it decided to stop on March 12. Soft of manner and speech, and perhaps even of ambition, the 54-year-old MP from Kurukshetra may have been as surprised as Manohar Lal Khattar was back in 2014 when picked as the chief minister of Haryana. The latter had an equally surprising exit clause sprung on him, six months short of a decade in office. Just the previous day, as he walked down the spanking-new Dwarka Expressway with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the 69-year-old Khattar had seemed supremely secure in saddle and stirrup. Saini, an OBC, is counted among those loyal to him, but wasn’t ever really groomed to inherit the mantle, nor did he present himself as a frontline choice for a generational shift. That is, if at all Haryana was deemed ready for a replay of a manoeuvre the BJP has previously employed in Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, choosing to face voters under a new chief minister. Another jigsaw piece was dislodged alongside, perhaps to be refitted at a different time—the Dushyant Chautala-led Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), an ally that had helped it make up the numbers in 2014, was out.

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