King of defections who got dose of his own medicine

By Jaideep Sarin,IANS,

Chandigarh/Hisar : He was the king of defections. A three-time chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal’s name became synonymous with the ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ syndrome symbolizing the shameless horse-trading that went on to become a curse in Indian politics.

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Bhajan Lal, 80, died of a heart attack in Hisar Friday at a time when he was in political isolation after suffering the embarrassment of the legislators of his own party, the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), defecting to the Congress in November 2009.

The cynics said he deserved it. Way back, in 1980, then chief minister Bhajan Lal led his entire Janata Party ministry to defect to the Congress, a mass cross-over that has remained unmatched so far.

Born Oct 6, 1930 in a village in Bahawalpur district (now in Pakistan), Bhajan Lal was seen as the biggest non-Jat leader in Jat-dominated Haryana politics. He dazzled in the state’s politics between 1979 and 1996.

Having started as a petty trader in Adampur town, near Hisar, Bhajan Lal became one of the most powerful political figures. He was the central minister for environment and forests and then agriculture (1986-89) in the Rajiv Gandhi government.

When he died, he still represented Hisar in the Lok Sabha. He was the chief minister of Haryana three times (1979-82, 1982-86 and 1991-96).

Bhajan Lal took to politics in 1965, and was elected to the Haryana assembly in 1968. He never looked back.

In no time, Bhajan Lal had grown so big that he started being viewed as a chief ministerial candidate, a prospect that worried Haryana’s another Lal — Bansi Lal, who had him eased out of his ministry in 1975.

A never-say-die Bhajan Lal lay low till prime minister Indira Gandhi announced an end to Emergency Rule in 1977.

Always looking for greener pastures, Bhajan Lal joined the Congress for Democracy (CFD) of Babu Jagjivan Ram and then sailed into the Janata Party that took power in New Delhi – and Haryana.

But once Indira Gandhi returned to power in January 1980, Bhajan Lal, fearing that his Janata Party government would be sacked by her, promptly embraced the Congress — along with his entire ministry.

Using defections as a tool, he remained the Haryana chief minister until 1986 before moving over to New Delhi to serve under Rajiv Gandhi.

He became chief minister again in 1991. But this was when he made the biggest blunder. His proximity to then Congress prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his disdain for Sonia Gandhi was to later cost him heavily.

Although he was out of power from 1996 to 2005, he was the Congress strongman in Haryana.

He won the Adampur assembly seat for an impressive ninth time in 2005 – marking a ruthless domination of the seat.

But despite his thumping 2005 victory, the Congress chose to make Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a Jat who had not even contested the assembly poll, the chief minister. Bhajan Lal was shocked.

Although his elder son Chander Mohan was accommodated as deputy chief minister in the Hooda government, Bhajan Lal was not impressed.

Finally, Bhajan Lal and his ambitious younger son Kuldeep Bishnoi, a Congress MP, left the party and floated the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) in December 2007.

But bad luck had set in.

In November 2009, five of the newly formed party’s six legislators joined the ruling Congress. The sole exception was Bishnoi himself.

This decimated Bhajan Lal politically in Haryana and virtually completed a full circle of defections.