Haryana: Kuldeep Bishnoi Leaves Congress, Joins BJP; Here's What This Tells Us About Both Parties In State
Kuldeep Bishnoi joining BJP can prove to be an advantage to the party not only in Haryana but in Rajasthan also.
Kuldeep Bishnoi joined Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today (4 August) in Delhi in the presence of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. He was expelled by Congress from all party positions for cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls in June.
It was expected that Congress and BJP would win one seat each for the Rajya Sabha from Haryana. However, Congress's Ajay Maken lost the election because of one vote.
At that time, Bishnoi had said that he did this "to break some people’s pride", in a veiled attack on former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. "People who were boasting that they have 31 MLAs in their pocket, got a taste of their arrogance," he further said.
Bishnoi was challenged by Hooda to resign as MLA after being expelled from Congress. He resigned from the state assembly yesterday and immediately challenged Hooda to contest from Adampur.
Bishnoi has been representing Adampur since 2014 and his resignation necessitates a by-poll for the seat. Bishnoi said that he left it to the BJP to decide who will contest the by-poll from Adampur but also added that he and the people want his son, Bhavya Bishnoi, to contest from there.
Bhavya Bishnoi had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Hisar. He, too, has quit the Congress. He tweeted his resignation letter saying that the Congress party's "leadership is in a suicide mode".
Bhavya Bishnoi also wrote in his resignation letter that HJC was merged with the Congress in 2016 because the party leadership made a commitment to acknowledge and utilise the capabilities and popularity of his father Kuldeep Bishnoi. However, he added, he has been "betrayed".
What Bishnoi's Exit Means For Congress
Kuldeep Bishnoi's exit not only emboldens the Congress's image as the pre-eminent Jat party in Haryana, but presents it as virtually a party of the Hoodas.
As this piece is being written, lobbying is said to be on for district and block president posts in the state Congress, and Hooda loyalists and old-timers are expected to get key positions in the exercise.
Political observers say that it is clear by now that the Gandhis are backing the Hoodas to deliver Haryana for the Congress in 2024.
Bhajan Lal And Congress
This will be the second time that Kuldeep Bishnoi is leaving the Congress, six years after he had returned to the party fold.
Just like Kuldeep Bishnoi, his father Bhajan Lal’s political career also saw many challenges from the Jat leadership within the Haryana Congress. In the 2005 assembly elections, for example, when Congress came back to power with an unprecedented tally of 67 of the 90 seats, a power struggle began within the party.
The then state Congress chief and the longest-serving chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal, was the front runner on account of his experience and the support of 32-odd newly-elected MLAs. However, another faction within the party thought that it was appropriate to anoint a Jat leader as chief minister.
It was argued that since 29 of the 33 Jat candidates who made it to the assembly were from the Congress, the chief minister should be from the Jat community itself. Ultimately, Bhupinder Singh Hooda was picked by the party high command.
Disappointed over this, Bishnoi and his father Bhajan Lal had floated the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) in 2007. Bhajan Lal won the Hisar Lok Sabha seat in 2009, from his HJC, and after his death, Kuldeep became Hisar MP for the remaining term of 2011-14.
The HJC later entered into a tie-up with the BJP and two other parties, who jointly contested the 2014 Lok Sabha polls in Haryana. They were supposed to contest the assembly polls together as well but the alliance crumbled.
Bishnoi Versus Hooda Between 2014 And 2022
The four-time MLA and two-time MP was upset with Congress for a few months.
The Congress in Haryana had been seen as unkind to any potential challenger to Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Bishnoi was also overlooked for the post of Congress's Haryana unit chief, during a revamp earlier this year.
In April, the party’s high command gave Hooda a 'free hand' by appointing Udai Bhan as the state unit president. Bhan is perceived as a loyalist to Hooda. He replaced Kumari Selja, who was also counted as amongst the senior leaders sidelined in Congress's Haryana unit. Both Bishnoi and Selja come from non-Jat groups.
What It Means For The BJP
On the other hand, even as the BJP tries to mobilise support for itself within the Jat voter base of the state, its image as a non-Jat party of Haryana gets strengthened with Bishnoi joining.
BJP appointed a non-Jat, Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister of the state and now the inheritor of Bhajan Lal's legacy has joined the party. Bhajan Lal, notably, was the only other non-Jat chief minister of Haryana in the last three decades.
Although, the post of the president of the BJP state unit has been consistently with a Jat leader in recent years. It was Subhash Barala earlier, and now it's with Om Prakash Dhankar since 2020. It is believed that votes from the Jat communities played a significant role in BJP's win in the 2014 assembly polls. However, in 2019, BJP could not garner that amount of support from the community, and eventually fell short of the majority mark.
It is estimated that Jats form 27 per cent of Haryana’s population and have a strong presence in around 40 of the 90 assembly seats.
Bishnoi joining BJP can prove to be an advantage to the party not only in Haryana but in Rajasthan also. This is because the numerical strength of the Bishnois is believed to be more significant there than in Haryana. It is likely that he will be deployed in the 2023 Rajasthan Assembly election campaign.
Secondly, Rajasthan BJP doesn't seem to have a high-profile Bishnoi leader. Kuldeep Bishnoi also gave a hint that he understood this potential role for him in the BJP: "I am joining BJP as an ordinary worker and I hope that all my supporters, be they from Haryana, Rajasthan or parts of Punjab, will be given full respect".
What Happens To His Sibling?
Bishnoi's elder brother, Chander Mohan, was made the deputy chief minister when Hooda became the Haryana chief minister in 2005, as a consolation to Bhajan Lal. However, in 2008, he became Chand Mohammad, giving up his religion, career and family to marry Anuradha Bali, who too converted to Islam and became Fiza.
He later returned to the family and again became Chander Mohan. He fought the 2014 assembly elections as an HJC candidate from Nalwa seat in Hisar under the leadership of his brother Kuldeep, but lost.
He again fought the 2019 assembly election from Panchkula on a Congress ticket but was defeated by the BJP candidate. It appears that he will continue with the Congress for the time being.
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