Chandigarh: With pressure mounting on Manohar Lal Khattar over the farmers’ agitation spreading across the state, the Haryana chief minister is having to contend with another issue — his Agriculture Minister Jai Parkash Dalal who has been a source of constant embarrassment.
Ever since farmers took to the streets in September, Dalal has looked to deride the movement, only to land himself and his government in a soup on every occasion.
He was at it again last Saturday, when he sparked another controversy by his remarks on farmers who lost their lives while camping at the Delhi borders.
During a press conference, the minister was asked to comment on the death of nearly 200 farmers in the agitation. “Had they been in their homes, wouldn’t they have died?” Dalal said, laughing. “If there are a lakh, 2 lakh people, won’t 200 of them die in six months? Some are dying of a heart attack, others of cold. The average age of India (sic) is so much and out of those so many die in one year. They have died in that ratio.”
Dalal then went on to say that some of the farmers “have committed suicide”. Asked if he condoled the farmers’ deaths, Dalal laughed and said: “I condole everyone’s death.”
A video of the Saturday press conference has gone viral and earned the ire of the opposition and farmer bodies. Dalal apologised Sunday through a video message on his Facebook page and claimed that his comments were taken out of context.
This, however, isn’t the first time that Dalal, a first-time MLA and minister, has landed in trouble over his remarks on the agitation.
A serial ‘offender’
The minister, who is an MLA from Loharu in Bhiwani district, is a serial offender when it comes to antagonising the agitating farmers.
When the protesting farmers reached Delhi’s borders in late November, he had claimed that Pakistan and China were trying to destabilise India through the farmers.
A week later in early December, Dalal attempted to start a statewide campaign in Haryana to ensure that the state’s farmers don’t support their counterparts in Punjab. He attempted to wedge a divide within the protesters, saying Haryana farmers should ask for their rightful share of river waters through the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.
The state BJP unit then launched SYL water protests but the move did not gain any traction.
In late December, the agitating farmers banned the entry of ruling BJP-JJP leaders into villages at Loharu, Dalal’s constituency.
The boycott led Dalal to postpone a rally of Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar at Behal mandi in his constituency.
The former Congressman from Bhiwani
The 65-year-old was, until a little more than six years ago, a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman before he joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 assembly polls.
Dalal was born in 1956 at Ghuskani village in Bhiwani, and graduated in Arts in 1978 after a diploma in civil engineering from a college in Rohtak.
He joined politics in 1986 along with Surender Choudhry, the son of then chief minister Bansi Lal.
Ten years later, when Bansi Lal created the Haryana Vikas Party (HVP), Dalal was among the founding members. He continued to hold various positions in the HVP and then the Congress, after the regional outfit merged with the national party in 2004. But he was never given a ticket to contest polls.
Dalal was considered very close to Surender Choudhry. When Surender died in a chopper crash in 2005 and his wife Kiran Choudhry took over her husband’s political legacy, Dalal continued to stay loyal to the Choudhry family.
He remained associated with the Choudhry family for four decades. A loan that Kiran Choudhry’s politician daughter, former MP Shruti Choudhry, had taken from Dalal still reflects in the latter’s election affidavit. The loan of Rs 70 lakh is also shown by Shruti in her own election affidavit.
Besides, Dalal has shown Rs 1.75 crore outstanding loan to the Surender Singh Memorial Trust. Dalal was also a director on the board of a company run by Kiran Choudhry.
In 2009, after Shruti won the Lok Sabha elections from Bhiwani-Mahendergarh parliamentary seat, Dalal was hoping to be given the Congress ticket from Loharu. But the ticket went to Somvir Singh, Bansi Lal’s son-in-law.
Dalal contested as an independent candidate from Loharu then and lost to Dharam Pal of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) by a razor thin margin of 621 votes.
Switch to BJP
Dalal made the switch to the BJP ahead of the 2014 assembly elections and was welcomed by the party that had very few Jat leaders back then.
The BJP handed Dalal the Loharu ticket but he lost to the INLD’s Om Parkash Barwa by 2,095 votes. In 2016, he was made the state BJP vice-president. In 2018, Dalal was made in-charge of the Jind BJP and later the in-charge of BJP’s Kisan Morcha.
In 2019, he again got the BJP ticket from Loharu and this time won by defeating Somvir Singh of the Congress by a margin of over 17,000 votes. Since almost the entire BJP cabinet had lost the elections, Dalal was picked up as the agriculture minister.
Dalal claims to be a “progressive farmer” and was one of the crorepati candidates in the elections. He owns small bits of several agricultural land, residential and commercial buildings. He also holds shares worth crores in real estate and agro firms.