Khurana was the bedrock of two crucial political aspects of the BJP — its growth in Delhi as well as its alliance with the Akalis in Punjab.
New Delhi: In less than three months, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has lost yet another giant — a key architect of the party’s rise in the national capital and a firmly rooted leader.
On Saturday, former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana died at the age of 82, two months after the death of former Prime Minister and unique poet-politician, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, further cementing the end of an era in the BJP.
Khurana was part of an era in the BJP marked by its old-world politicians with deep roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), all of whom helped build the then fledgeling party brick-by-brick.
A four-time parliamentarian, Khurana was the bedrock of two crucial political aspects of the BJP — its growth in Delhi as well as its alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab.
The Delhi chapter
Affectionately nicknamed Delhi ka Sher (Lion of Delhi), Khurana was born in Punjab Province in British India but his family was forced to migrate to Delhi during Partition.
He took to politics while studying at the Allahabad University, becoming the general secretary of the Allahabad Students Union. Khurana, along with other leaders such as V.K. Malhotra and Kanwar Lal Gupta formed the Delhi chapter of the Jan Sangh — the precursor to the BJP — in which Khurana served as the general secretary from 1965-67.
The BJP’s rise in Delhi is what Khurana is most closely associated with. Following the 1984 general elections, where the BJP hit a real low, winning merely two seats, Khurana patiently helped rebuild the party in the national capital. The chief minister of Delhi between 1993-1996, Khurana was a strong advocate of full statehood for the capital.
Khurana was also Governor of Rajasthan for a brief spell in 2004 before returning to active politics — he was the parliamentary affairs and tourism minister in the Vajpayee government.
Role in Punjab
For Vajpayee, Khurana, known for his old-school approach to politics that included keeping his doors open to all, was crucial in stitching together the alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. He was then the BJP leader in-charge of the state.
Khurana was also the go-to troubleshooter for any schisms within the alliance.
In October 1997, for instance, within just around seven months of the SAD-BJP government in Punjab, tensions emerged. The BJP was anxious at what it saw as the Akalis’ attempts to appease then Prime Minister I.K. Gujral.
After the former PM promised to waive off a massive debt Punjab owed to the Centre, the Akalis held a grand public function to honour Gujral at his home-town of Jalandhar.
What made the BJP even more insecure was a remark by an Akali Dal spokesperson who said the party would vacate the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat for Gujral after his Rajya Sabha term expired in early 1998.
It was Khurana who stepped in from the BJP – both to reach out to the Akalis and salvage public perception about a troubled alliance. It is said that he promptly dialled the Badals and went on to publicly dismiss the reports, saying it wasn’t a formal decision by SAD or the alliance.
Turbulent equation with the party
Khurana and the BJP’s relationship, however, was far from the proverbial bed of roses. A precarious mix of turf-wars, personal rivalries, ideological disagreements and mismatched expectations marked the veteran politician’s equation with his party.
In February 1996, Khurana resigned as the CM of Delhi within three years of taking charge, following the Hawala scam controversy. Despite the BJP and RSS informally indicating he should quit, Khurana reportedly did so only reluctantly – not wanting to step down without waiting for the formal chargesheet, even though L.K. Advani had already quit as party president in the wake of the scandal.
Khurana’s exit paved the way for Sahib Singh Verma, and even though the transition then seemed smooth, it eventually led to a bitter power struggle between the two.
In 1999, Khurana had yet another face-off with the party.
Following a spate of anti-Christian violence in many parts of the country, the leader wrote a scathing letter to the then party president Kushabhau Thakre.
“I have been an RSS worker for the past 54 years, and an activist of the Jan Sangh and the BJP from its inception. I consider Hindutva to be nationalism. Hindutva is a manifestation of culturalism. Hindutva for me has been total dedication to the nation,” Khurana wrote.
“The meaning of pseudo-Hindutva for some could be destroying cinema halls, digging up cricket pitches or setting ablaze churches, but not that Hindutva which I believe in”.
Accused of “party indiscipline”, Khurana was forced to resign as minister, as well as from the BJP’s National Executive.
In August 2005, the veteran leader was at odds with his party yet again, suspended after publicly criticising then BJP president Advani. He was reinstated after he tendered an apology but the peace was short-lived.
Within six months, he was suspended from the party once again, following his announcement that he would join a rally in Delhi led by Uma Bharti – who at that point stood expelled from the party.
His rift with Advani, meanwhile, only continued to grow and he once famously said the “biggest mistake of my life was when I resigned as Delhi chief minister in 1996 on Advani’s advice.”
It was in April 2008 that Khurana re-joined the BJP, following a two-line announcement by the party that said (then) BJP president Rajnath Singh had given his consent to the matter.
His love-hate, often tense relationship with the BJP aside, Khurana will be remembered by the party as a stalwart who helped lay its foundations and shape its future, perhaps only a tad less than veterans such as Vajpayee and Advani.