Gaya Lal, an independent MLA in Haryana, jumped ship twice within a few hours and thrice in 15 days to be a part of the new government.
Chandigarh: ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ is a phrase often thrown around when possible turncoats emerge as the flavour of the season after inconclusive elections, like in the tug-of-war currently underway in Karnataka.
It turns out the phrase is not some random Hindi idiom, but one steeped in political history, rooted in a former Haryana MLA’s multiple leaps from one party to another.
It was in early 1967 that Haryana, then less than a year old, witnessed its first assembly election. That poll season, Gaya Lal, an independent MLA, changed parties twice within a few hours and thrice in 15 days to be a part of the new government.
A few days later, the then home minister Yashwantrao Chavan used the phrase ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ in Parliament as he took a jibe at Gaya Lal, and it soon became the byword for turncoats. Although its use fell after the anti-defection law of 1985 curtailed the trend altogether, it continues to surface every now and then.
The man of the moment
The son of a veteran Congress man of the pre-Independence India, Gaya Lal started his political career with the party too, initially following in the footsteps of his father, a three-term chairman of the municipal committee for Hodal (Palwal).
“In 1952, my father Gaya Lalji joined the municipal committee and remained its vice-chairman till 1967, when he stood for his first assembly elections,” said Gaya Lal’s son Udai Bhan, a Congress MLA from Haryana.
Unhappy about his father’s association with the phrase, Udai Bhan was at pains to explain that his father didn’t shift as often as was believed and said others had much worse records. Explaining the 1967 story, Udai Bhan said, “My father was expecting a ticket from the Congress from the Hassanpur seat (now Hodal). But senior Congress leader Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma (Haryana’s first chief minister) got his ticket cut.”
“My father stood for elections as an independent candidate and won the elections defeating the Congress candidate,” he added.
The turmoil that followed the election was detailed by former law professor Paras Diwan in a 1979 article, ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram: The Politics Of Defection (sic)’, published in the Journal of the Indian Law Institute (Vol. 21, No. 3 July-September 1979, pp. 291-312).
“In Haryana in the 1967 elections the Congress returned with a majority of seats winning 48 out of 81 seats. Of the remaining seats independents (most of them were Congress rebels) won 16, Jan Sangh 12, Swatanter three and Republican two,” he wrote.
“The Congress government headed by Bhagwat Dayal was installed on 10 March but was defeated a week later in the assembly. Twelve Congress defectors formed a new party, the Haryana Congress, and independents formed a new party, the Navin Haryana party. They formed a United Front. More defections from the Congress took place and the strength of the United Front rose to 48,” he added.
Diwan then explains how, on 24 March, the United Front government was sworn in under Rao Birender Singh, with most ministerial berths distributed among Congress defectors and independents. “But defections continued. (Former Congress leader) Devi Lal led the opposition against the Rao Birender Singh ministry. And the worst game of defections began. Defections and counter defections, the ‘Aaya Rams and Gaya Rams’ became a daily occurrence,” Diwan added.
“The Rao ministry countered this move by the frequent expansion of his ministry and reconstitution. The government did not fall but it was far from being stable. On 21 November, President’s Rule was proclaimed and the Haryana legislative assembly was dissolved,” he added.
A bid to defend his legacy
According to Udai Bhan, his father was among those who had joined the United Front. “Then my father was approached by the Congress. My father refused as he knew that Bhagwat Dayal would be made the Congress chief minister and my father was opposed to him. But my father was assured that Chaudhry Chand Ram would be made the chief minister, not Bhagwat Dayal,” he said.
“At that point, my father joined the Congress. However, a few hours later, when it was announced that Bhagwat Dayal had been declared the chief minister, my father quit the Congress and went back to the United Front,” Udai added.
The following years brought several more shifts for Gaya Lal: He lost the 1972 assembly elections as a candidate of a little-known outfit named the Akhil Bhartiya Arya Sabha. “In 1974, my father joined the Bhartiya Lok Dal under the leadership of Chaudhary Charan Singh. In 1977, he won the seat as a Janata Party candidate after the Lok Dal merged with the Janata Party,” said Udai.
Gaya Lal’s last election, like his first, saw him contest as an independent in 1982, but he lost.
It’s been nearly a decade since his death, and Udai wants his father’s name freed of this legacy. “My father passed away in 2009. It is not right to remember him with the phrase. Why don’t people talk about Hiranand Arya? He served several terms as the MLA for Loharu and changed his party seven times in one day,” he added.
Udai’s own political career, too, has seen marked by several shifts. He made his debut in 1987, winning his family’s seat as a candidate of the Lok Dal (Bahuguna faction). In 1991, he lost as a representative of the Janata party and in 1996 as an independent.
In 2000, he won the seat as an independent. In 2004, he was one of 10 MLAs facing charges under the anti-defection law for joining the Congress, but Udai claimed at the time that he had only shifted his support from the INLD to the Congress. He eventually joined the Congress and, in 2005, won his family’s seat as a candidate of the party. He has been affiliated with the party ever since.