It being so close yet so far for Congressman-turned-BJP leader, Birender Singh (68). For the Jat leader from Jind who severed his four-decade-old association with the Congress before the Haryana assembly polls and jumped on the saffron bandwagon, it has been a case of missed opportunities. No wonder the day Singh bid goodbye to the Congress, he held himself to be a “tragedy king”.
Birender nearly became a union minister in the UPA-2 government but had to cool his heels at the last minute. An outspoken Singh accused former Haryana chief minister and his cousin, Bhupinder Singh Hooda of manipulating and sabotaging his prospects. He also lost the race for chief ministership to Hooda in 2005 when Congress president Sonia Gandhi handpicked Hooda ahead of the then Congress chief, Bhajan Lal.
It was ironic that Singh who was hopeful of getting the chief minister’s post in 2009 lost the assembly election on his home turf of Uchana Kalan by about 600 votes to INLD chief, Om Prakash Chautala. He blamed fellow Congressmen of engineering sabotage to ensure his defeat.
Dissatisfied with the party functioning, Singh, a known detractor of chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, had made his intentions clear after the Congress debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. After declaring that he was not ready to contest assembly polls under Hooda’s leadership, the former minister started building bridges with the saffron party, eventually quitting the Congress.
Import to BJP
Birender who draws a lot of his political strength from Jat leader Sir Chhotu Ram’s lineage has been a big catch for the BJP, a fringe player on the Haryana political turf before the 2014 assembly win.
The party, which formed the government on its own for the first time in the state, intends to make inroads into the 25% Jat vote bank which by and large gets swayed either towards the Congress or Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
The BJP, which rode on anti-Jat sentiment in these assembly elections, virtually swept the entire northern and southern Haryana by winning 32 seats. However, BJP’s performance the Jat heartland of Jind, Sirsa, Hisar, Rohtak, Sonepat and Bhiwani was far from impressive. While it fielded 25 Jat candidates in the assembly polls, only six could win.
“The BJP is now a serious player on the Haryana circuit. And it knows that without Jat backing, they would not be able to perform well in the future. In that context, Birender’s induction into the Union Cabinet will send a very strong signal to the Jat electorate,” said a party source.
The saffron party not only fielded Birender’s wife, Prem Lata from Uchana Kalan (now an MLA), it also accommodated at least four Birender backed candidates with party tickets.