Haryana’s ‘Aya Ram-Gaya Rams’ survive despite anti-defection law

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS,

Chandigarh : The Anti-Defection Act? What’s that, voters in Haryana might well ask given the revolving door policy followed by many state politicians – and demonstrated most recently when five of Haryana Janhit Congress’ (HJC) six legislators joined the Congress.

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The 1985 act, which bars an elected representative from changing his or her political party after being elected to the legislature, was enforced by lawmakers to stop the ‘Aya Ram-Gaya Ram’ syndrome – the uniquely Indian phrase symbolising the open horse-trading of legislators by one or the other party to get into power. But it seems to have been a non-starter in Haryana given the turn of events in the last one week.

Five out of the six newly elected legislators of the HJC, led by former chief minister Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi, dumped the party to “unconditionally” join the ruling Congress. The sole exception was Bishnoi himself, the hapless HJC president reduced to a one-man party in the assembly.

The Congress, led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, had emerged as the single largest party with 40 seats in the Oct 13 assembly poll. With a hung house, the Congress needed six legislators to have a simple majority in the 90-member house.

The party was able to rope in all seven independent legislators elected this time. The ‘unconditional’ support of these independents ensured that each one of them was accommodated when Hooda formed his council of ministers earlier this month.

Four Independents ended up with ministerial berths while three others were made chief parliamentary secretaries with full ministerial privileges.

Assembly Speaker Harmohinder Singh Chatha has already declared all five HJC legislators as Congress members – taking the strength of the party to 45 seats in the assembly.

With the support from the seven independents and the lone Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator Akram Khan, the Congress enjoys the support of 53 legislators in the house.

The ease with which the HJC legislators were able to walk into the Congress camp has mocked at the Ant-Defection Act and drawn criticism from the opposition Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).

The INLD is alleging that millions of rupees have changed hands in Haryana in the last 20 days to get support of legislators.

Under the amended Anti-Defection Act, if two-thirds of the elected legislators of a party decide to form a new group or party and merge it with another party, the same is allowed. Voting contrary to the whip of the party invites disqualification for the legislator. If disqualified, the legislator has to seek re-election.

The phrase ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ itself was coined when a Haryana assembly legislator, Gaya Lal, changed his political loyalties thrice in a single day in 1967 – just months after Haryana was created (Nov 1, 1966) and the state witnessed its first assembly election.

Ironically, one of the beneficiaries was Bhajan Lal, whose name became synonymous with the ‘Aya Ram-Gaya Ram’ syndrome, or the revolving door through which politicians walked in and out of parties. Bhajan Lal went on to become chief minister in the state in 1979.

Bhajan Lal then followed this with another political stunt that remains unparalleled till today. He walked in with 37 legislators to join the Congress in 1980.

In 1982, despite being in a minority, the Congress was invited to form the government by then Haryana governor G.D. Tapase, forcing a fuming Devi Lal, who later became India’s deputy prime minister, to slap the governor. Bhajan Lal became chief minister by engineering the defections.

However, in February 2005 Bhajan Lal successfully led the Congress back to power in Haryana with a thumping victory. Hooda was installed as chief minister, leaving Bhajan Lal sulking.

Finally Bhajan Lal and his son, Kuldeep Bishnoi, left the Congress last year and floated the HJC in December 2007.

The door has revolved again – this time to the misfortune of Bhajan Lal and his son.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])