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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 52, December 12, 2009

Poetic Justice!

Saturday 12 December 2009, by Ranbir Singh

The encouragement and patronage of the then Speaker of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, Harbans Lal, prompted the then Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti, Adampur (Hisar), Bhajan Lal, to join State politics in 1965. The defection of the Congress MLA from Adampur, Hari Singh Dabra, in 1967 facilitated his success in getting the Congress ticket in the 1968 mid-term elections. The defection of the only Bishnoi MLA, Mani Ram Godara, also made his task easier as Bhajan Lal was the sole serious claimant to the Congress ticket from this community. After that Bhajan Lal did not look back. He was not only elected to the Haryana Asembly in 1968 but was also inducted into the Bansi Lal Ministry, and he emerged as the trouble-shooter for the Chief Minister. In fact, by becoming a faviourite of Bansi Lal, Bhajan Lal emerged as the most powerful Minister. However, things began to change after the 1972 elections as he came to be viewed as a potential claimant for the office of the Chief Minister. The threat of framing him in a fabricated case of moral turpitude was used by Bansi Lal to ease him out of the Ministry in 1975. Bhajan Lal chose to lie low till the 1977 parliamentary elections were announced. After this, he decided to join the Janata Party via the Congress for Democracy, a political outfit floated by Jagjivan Ram, the then Union Minster who revolted against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The tricks of the trade learnt by him as a businessman before his entry into local politics and the expertise gained as the Chairman of the Panchayat Samiti and as a trouble-shooter for Bansi Lal, and the support from Prime Minister Morarji Desai and the National President of the Janata Party, Chandra Shekhar, enabled Bhajan Lal to mobilise the Janata MLAs against the then Chief Minister, Devi Lal. Of course, he also used the caste card for mobilising the non-Jat MLAs for this purpose by exposing the casteist image of Devi Lal. His task was also facilitated by the support that was extended to him by those disgruntled Jat MLAs who could not be accommodated by Devi Lal in his Ministry. The “Bharat Darshan” arranged by Bhajan Lal put the dissident MLAs beyond the reach of Devi Lal and resulted in the latter’s exit and the appointment of Bhajan Lal as the Chief Minister in June 1979.

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His position remained unaffected by the split in the Janata Party in July 1979. So much so, that after the 1980 parliamentary elections he created a sort of record by engineering a mass defection of the Janata Legislature Party to the Congress-I and thus, converted the Janata Party Government into the Congress-I Government. Bhajan Lal justified it by observing: “In politics, one should take the right decision at the right time or take Sanyas.”

Although the Congress-I had won only 36 out of 90 seats in the 1982 Haryana Assembly elections, and the Devi Lal-led Lok Dal-BJP alliance had won 37 seats (Lok Dal 31 and BJP six seats), and was able to cobble a majority in the Haryana Assembly by enlisting the support of some Congress (J) and independent MLAs, Bhajan Lal was somehow sworn as the Chief Minister by the then Governor of Haryana, G.D. Tapase, on the ground that he was the leader of the single largest party in the House. After this, he was able to convert the figure 36 into 63 through his expertise in engineering defections.

He joined the Union Government in 1986. However, once again after out-manoeuvring Birender Singh, the then President of HPCC, he became the Chief Minister of Haryana in 1991. Although he remained out of power from 1996 to 2005, he was the supreme leader of the Congress during this period, having been appointed as the President of the HPCC.

Neverthless, his proximity to P.V. Narasimha Rao and his indifferent attitude towards Sonia Gandhi proved very costly for him. He was bypassed after the 2005 Haryana Assembly elections in favour of Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Another factor that worked against him was the decision of the Congress High Command to have a Jat leader with a clean and liberal image to counter the influence of O.P. Chautala and his INLD among the Jats on the one hand and to retain the support of non-Jats on the other hand. This incensed him and he left the party to float his own regional party—the Haryana Jan Hit Congress. Maybe, he had to do so on account of the strong pressure exerted by his highly ambitious younger son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, who was in a hurry to become the Chief Minister of Haryana. Although Bhajan Lal succeeded in entering the Lok Sabha from Hisar in the 2009 elections with a narrow margin, his party, because of its failure to retain alliance with either the BSP or the BJP, could win only six out of 90 seats in the 2009 Haryana Assembly elections. It is alleged that the political ambition of Kuldeep Bishnoi stood in the way of making an effective fruitful alliance with any other political party.

But alas! This Ph.D in politics and himself a successful engineer of many defections could not prevent five of the six MLAs of the Haryana Jan Hit Congress from defecting to the Congress under the cover of merger. Thus, the figure of six was reduced to one. Now, Kuldeep Bishnoi is the lone member representing this party in the Haryana Legislative Assembly. Unfortunately, Bhajan Lal could not take the right decision of returning to the Congress at the right time. Anyway, it is a case of poetic justice for this specialist in the art of engineering defections!

Formerly a Professor of Political Science, Kurukshetra University, the author is presently a Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri.

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