April 03, 2020
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A Rebel Breaches A Citadel

A Rebel Breaches A Citadel

IN 1975, chroniclers of the Emergency tell us, Bansi Lal was primarily instrumental in locking up leading lights of the Jan Sangh in several high-security prisons in Haryana. According to them, as then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi confabulated with her advisers to search for a place for political prisoners, Bansi Lal offered her Haryana. "It's close to Delhi," he told her. In 1996, Bansi Lal, who has been at the receiving end from his parent party, says he is raring to take on Congressmen.

It was becoming increasingly clear that Bansi Lal's Haryana Vikas Party (HVP) and its ally, the BJP, had more than taken on the combined might of Om Prakash Chautala's Samata Party and the Congress led by Bhajan Lal. On May 10, Bansi Lal wrote to the Governor staking his claim to form the government—he had already managed to woo three newly-elected Independents. The next day, Bansi Lal was sworn in as chief minister, 20 years after his first stint—from 1968 to 1975.

Even when Bansi Lal and the BJP joined hands, they could not have possibly envisaged the groundswell of public opinion in their favour. But as the elections drew nearer, opinion polls predicted a majority for the HVP-BJP combine. As it turned out, the Samata Party came closest to this right-wing coalition. The party (trailing until results last came in from Narvana) came a respectable second bagging 24 assembly seats. But the HVP-BJP combine, with 34 and 10 seats respectively, are easily ahead with 46 (including allies) out of a total of 90 assembly seats, which gives them a simple majority to form the government.

In the battle between the three Lals of the predominantly agricultural state, Bhajan Lal and his Congress were literally battered, managing no more than nine seats. Of these, Bhajan Lal won from Adampur while his son Chandramohan emerged victorious at Kalka. The remaining seven seats were picked up by Bhajan Lal confidants who were rewarded tickets. Within hours of the trends becoming clear, the chief minister and Om Prakash Chautala were "bowing before the people's verdict".

Why did the Congress collapse? Local Haryana leaders say Bhajan Lal's aspirations for his family determined distribution of tickets and that many other favours were openly awarded to members of Bhajan Lal's Bishnoi community. Though his style of operation was much less abrasive than what other Haryana politicians are capable of, the damage was done.

However, as in the rest of the country, the results barely suggested a pattern. Thus, Chautala's strongman Jai Prakash of the green brigade notoriety, who contested from two constituencies, won from Hissar, Bhajan Lal's district, but lost from Narvana. Then again, Bansi Lal's son Surinder Singh lost his assembly seat to Bhajan Lal from Adampur, but managed to win the Bhiwani Lok Sabha seat defeating his nearest rival by two lakh votes.

Bansi Lal himself is expected to confer with senior BJP leaders in Delhi on the question of accommodating his allies in the ministry. "Old enemies are coming together,'' sneered a losing Congress member. Privately they admit that Congressmen will be at the receiving end of Bansi Lal's ire. The incumbent had made prohibition one of his leading poll planks and announced its enforcement at his very first press conference after his swearing-in. It comes into effect from June 1. One of those going to be hit is Bhajan Lal's son-in-law, who has the largest distillery in the state. But like all alliances, it remains a moot point as to what the aspirations of the coalition partners are. In Haryana it does not take long for an entire party to defect to the rival camp without batting a constitutional eyelid.

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