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When the horsetraders got traded

The recently concluded elections have had one serious fallout in the ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ state of Haryana. Bhajan Lal, a former CM and the master of ‘horse-trading’, finds himself this time at the receiving end, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2009 21:33 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The recently concluded elections have had one serious fallout in the ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ state of Haryana. Bhajan Lal, a former Chief Minister and the master of ‘horse-trading’, finds himself this time at the receiving end. The enticement of five of his party’s six MLAs by the Congress has ensured that he and his younger son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, stand isolated.

The duo’s plight stems from their immaturity in dealing with the Congress, which while emerging as the largest party was still six short of the magic number. Bhajan Lal’s Haryana Janhit Congress had secured six seats, the exact number needed by the Congress to form a stable government. However, in their eagerness to settle scores with their arch adversary and CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the two have had to taste the bitterness of ‘defection politics’.

Bhajan Lal was the only non-Jat leader to have ruled Haryana for a number of years by outwitting two iconic Jat leaders, Devi Lal and Bansi Lal. He had become adept in engineering defections and had even successfully transformed his entire Janata Party government into a Congress one after Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980. Bhajan Lal, a truly pan-Haryana leader, used to normally get elected from Adampur, near the Rajasthan border. His elder son, Chandra Prakash, had been successful from Kalka, bordering Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Chandigarh. Younger son Kuldeep had defeated both Bansi Lal’s son, Surinder Singh, and Om Prakash Chautala’s son, Ajay Chautala, from Bhiwani in 2004 to emerge as the victor in a battle of the sons of ex-CMs.

In addition, Bhajan Lal had represented Faridabad, which shares borders with UP and Karnal, the latter in the middle of Haryana. In that sense, he — and his family — had been given the mandate by the people of the state from every region in Haryana, something no other leader can boast of. Even in 2009, fighting against a Congress wave, Bhajan Lal got elected to the Lok Sabha from Hissar. But this time, an ailing Lal was unable to impress upon Kuldeep that he should be pragmatic and settle for a reasonable offer from the Congress. This was not only to prolong his political career but also to get back into the power structure. In the 2005 Haryana assembly polls, the Congress high command opted for Hooda essentially because the party won from every Jat constituency and, thus, was compelled to have a CM from that community.

Bhajan Lal found himself left high and dry and thus broke away to form his own outfit, though his elder son Chandra Prakash remained the deputy CM till his controversial marriage to Anuradha Bali under Islamic rites. The Bhajan Lal family distanced itself from Chandra Prakash and the younger son took political centrestage.

Kuldeep faltered when he started insisting that Hooda should not be made the CM and his six MLAs would support anyone else but him. His other demands initially also included his inclusion in the ministry as the deputy CM and his father’s induction in the Union Cabinet. Despite being sounded by Prithviraj Chavan, the Congressman in charge of Haryana, Kuldeep tried to bargain — even demanding a cash prize for his MLAs — without realising that a blueprint had been prepared to entice them away. So he could not keep his flock in check. It is a matter of speculation whether his and his father’s image would have been intact if he had merged his party with the Congress. In the bargain, he very well could have become deputy CM.

But as things stand today, developments in Haryana have virtually ensured that Bhajan Lal and Kuldeep Bishnoi have only each other for company. As of now, their politics seems to be over. Between us.