New Delhi: Bhajan Lal, the sixth chief minister of Haryana, was called the master of ‘horse-trading’ for his formidable capacity to forge alliances across party lines. He was also known for having ‘superhuman powers of persuasion’.
Such was his political standing that he ruled Haryana thrice, outwitting two prominent Jat leaders — Devi Lal and Bansi Lal. Bhajan Lal, a non-Jat from the Bishnoi caste, served as the chief minister of Haryana from 1979 to 1982, from 1982 to 1986 and again from 1991 to 1996.
India Today had once described Bhajan Lal as: “He (Bhajan Lal) is credited with superhuman powers of persuasion, extraordinary talent to spot purchasable legislators in the enemy camps, and a demonic flair for wrecking all opposition alliances. Leaders opposed to him hate him as they would a snake.”
On his eighth death anniversary, ThePrint recalls the life and times of this giant of Haryana politics.
Bhajan Lal was born on 6 October 1930 at Koranwali village of Bahawalpur district in present-day Pakistan. He received his formal education in the same city. His initial life was difficult as he was forced to sell wares on his cycle to earn a livelihood. Bhajan Lal moved to Hisar after Partition.
A farmer by profession, Bhajan Lal started his political career from the lowest rung. He became a village sarpanch and later the chairman of panchayati samiti of Hisar. He then joined the Congress and went on to become the president of Congress Mandal in the same region.
In 1968, Bhajan Lal was elected to the Haryana assembly for the first time after winning the mid-term polls from Adampur. In the 1972 Haryana elections, he retained the seat. In 1977, Bhajan Lal switched over to the Janata Party and was elected from Hisar constituency. Due to his ability to switch party loyalties conveniently, Hindustan Times had called him a “master of horse-trading”.
Under Devi Lal’s Janata Party government in Haryana, Bhajan Lal had helmed several ministries, including the ministry of dairy development, animal husbandry, labour and
employment, and forests between 1978 and 1979.
Switch back to Congress
Bhajan Lal, along with a group of MLAs, returned to the Congress in 1979 from the Janata Party. In that year’s state elections, he played a major role in installing a Congress government in Haryana. Although the Congress emerged as the single-largest party in the state with 36 seats, it fell short of the majority mark in the 90-member assembly.
The second-largest party was Janata Party constituent Lok Dal with 31 seats. However, along with its Janata Party allies, it had 37 seats.
On 22 May that year, Haryana governor G.D. Tapase invited Devi Lal to prove his party’s majority in the assembly by 24 May, while Bhajan Lal was given a month’s time to do the same. He successfully forged alliances with 16 independent candidates within the stipulated time and became the chief minister.
Served as union minister
In May 1982, Bhajan Lal was once again sworn in as the chief minister — a position he held till June 1986.
That year, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha and was also made the union minister of agriculture, and environment and forest in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s government.
In 1989, Bhajan Lal went on to become a Lok Sabha MP from Faridabad constituency.
In July 1991, he resigned from the Lok Sabha and contested the Haryana assembly elections from Adampur. The Congress once again won the elections and Bhajan Lal
was sworn in as the chief minister for the third time.
In the 1996 state polls, the Congress, however, lost power to Bansi Lal’s Haryana Vikas Party, and then in 1999 it lost to Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal.
In 2005, the Congress once again came back to power in Haryana, but this time the post of chief minister went to Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
In 2007, Bhajan Lal broke away from the Congress and formed his own party — Haryana Janhit Congress. In 2009, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Hisar constituency.
Bhajan Lal died of a heart attack on 3 June 2011 at the age of 81. The Haryana government had then declared a three-day mourning.
This article has been re-edited to accurately reflect that Bhajan Lal was not the first non-Jat chief minister of Haryana.
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