Chandigarh: Has the time come to write the epitaph for the legacy of the three famous Lals of Haryana — former chief ministers Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal?
The three men and their descendants have defined Haryana politics for decades, by either holding power or having a definite say in it. They were also formidable patriarchs, each a mass leader in his own right.
That legacy now lies in tatters.
The surge of nationalism in this state along with the rest of the country has virtually wiped out every political vestige of all the three Lals, at least for the time being, with the BJP bagging all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana.
The biggest fall was registered by the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the party of the state’s jannayak (hero of the masses) Devi Lal. Not only did the INLD not win a single seat, but its vote share also plunged from the 24.43 per cent it managed in the 2014 general elections to a mere 1.89 per cent this time around, with many of its candidates losing their deposits.
Devi Lal’s great-grandsons fail
Devi Lal was among the first regional satraps in the country to occupy the national stage. His clout, both political and moral was evident in the period following Emergency when the Janata Party was at the helm at the Centre.
His great-grandchildren, though, were all decimated in the Lok Sabha elections.
Devi Lal’s legacy, however, has been under threat for a while. Lal’s political heir, INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala, four-time chief minister of the state, is in jail along with his older son Ajay Chautala, after being sentenced to 10 years in the teachers’ recruitment scam.
The INLD then split last year, with Ajay Chautala’s elder son Dushyant Chautala forming the breakaway Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). All of it appears to have contributed to the Lok Sabha rout.
Dushyant, the outgoing Hisar MP who saw himself as a future chief minister, lost his Lok Sabha seat to the BJP’s Brijender Singh by 3.1 lakh votes. Dushyant’s brother, Digvijay Chautala, also of the JJP, fared far worse, finishing a distant third in Sonipat after getting a mere 4.53 per cent of the votes.
It was no better for Devi Lal’s other great-grandson, Arjun Chautala of the INLD, who lost at Kurukshetra by over 6 lakh votes.
Togetherness is the key
The Chautalas have only themselves to blame. Just two years ago, they were touted to regain their prominence in the state, after having lost the assembly elections to the BJP in 2014. They had allied with the BSP and the combination seemed a potent one.
The hubris and overconfidence that resulted from this perception proved the undoing of the Chautalas and they have imploded dramatically, with the most pernicious infighting leading to the formation of the JJP.
The JJP allied with the Aam Aadmi Party in these Lok Sabha elections — the JJP fielded candidates on seven seats and the AAP on three. Both fared poorly, the JJP secured only 5 per cent of the vote share while AAP managed a measly .4 per cent.
There is, however, a belief in Haryana that the Chautalas can pose a threat to the BJP if they reconcile, given that their key voter base is the Jats, the single largest community in the state.
For now, however, there are no signs of a patch-up.
Bansi Lal’s legacy frittered away
The original phenomenal development of Haryana following the reorganisation in 1966 is rightly credited to Bansi Lal. A Congress strongman of the Emergency era, Bansi Lal was in a position of untrammelled power but saw a dramatic fall after that period, mainly due to the excesses of his son Surender Singh.
After Surender died in an air crash in 2005, his wife Kiran Chaudhary inherited the family’s political legacy.
Bansi Lal’s granddaughter Shruti Choudhary, daughter of Surender and Kiran, lost by 4.4 lakh votes in Bhiwani-Mahendergarh, the old family bastion identified with Bansi Lal himself. This was her second straight defeat. In 2014, she had lost by almost 1.3 lakh votes to the BJP’s Dharambir, who won again.
The Bishnois of Hisar
Bhajan Lal, one of the few non-Jat icons in Haryana, was a master political craftsmen, stitching together new socio-political and legislative alliances unencumbered by conventional considerations of political ethics.
While both Bansi Lal and Devi Lal were strong, stern and rigid, Bhajan Lal was pleasant, flexible and ever adapting and succeeded where the other two failed.
While for the most part of his career he remained with the Congress, he has served as the Janata Party chief minister of the state. In 2007, his son Kuldeep Bishnoi formed the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).
The HJC initially tied up with the BJP but merged with the Congress in 2016. While Kuldeep continues to be the MLA from the family’s bastion of Adampur in Hisar, his son Bhavya Bishnoi contested the Lok Sabha elections from Hisar and finished third.