Bhajan Lal fights a battle with back to the wall

May 19th, 2008 - 3:13 pm ICT by admin  

By Jaideep Sarin
Adampur (Haryana), May 19 (IANS) At age 77 years and with a poor health record in recent months, former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal is perhaps fighting his last political battle. As the former Congress stalwart seeks votes in his own assembly stronghold of Adampur for the May 22 by-election, he clearly has his back to the wall. Even though no one in this constituency is ready to even predict that Bhajan Lal may lose here in the by-election Thursday, things have changed for the once strongman of Haryana.

“This was one seat where Bhajan Lal hardly ever campaigned in the past. Now things are different. He and his son are seeking votes saying he needs to be elected,” says Chander Prakash, a businessman at Adampur’s famous grain market.

Bhajan Lal, seen as Haryana’s biggest non-Jat leader in the Jat-dominated state politics, won this assembly seat for a record ninth time in February 2005 - marking a ruthless domination of the seat since 1968 when he won it for the first time.

His victory margin of over 71,000 votes in 2005 was the highest for any Congress candidate.

Although Bhajan Lal led the Congress to a thumping three-fourth majority, the party chose Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who had not even contested the election, as chief minister after a bitter intra-party fight.

Bhajan Lal’s decimation within the Congress started then. In March this year, he and two of his supporters-legislators, Dharampal Malik and Rakesh Kamboj, were disqualified from their under the Anti-Defection law for forming and joining a new party - Haryana Janhit Congress.

Bhajan Lal now has to face competition from the ruling Congress’ Ranjit Singh, a son of former deputy prime minister and Haryana’s political patriarch Devi Lal, and Indian National Lok Dal’s Sampat Singh, a former finance minister.

Bhajan Lal faces 41 contestants - including six ‘Bhajan Lal’ namesakes who are believed to have been propped up as independent candidates by other parties to confuse voters.

Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi, who is the president of the newly floated Haryana Janhit Congress, have been campaigning hard to ensure that the assembly seat does not go out of the hold of the family.

Incidentally, Bhajan Lal’s elder son Chander Mohan is the deputy chief minister in the Congress government in the state. Chander Mohan has kept himself away from the campaigning in any of the three seats for which by-polls are being held May 22 - perhaps torn between his party (Congress) and the family.

For chief minister Hooda, ensuring a win for Congress candidate Ranjit Singh, who is seen as an ‘outsider’ in this seat, is equally important on two counts.

Firstly, if Bhajan Lal loses here, Hooda’s supremacy in Haryana Congress will be established firmly. Secondly, Bhajan Lal’s loss will give a bad start to the Haryana Janhit Congress in its first political battle after its formation in December.

For the Haryana Janhit Congress, the by-election in all three assembly seats - Adampur (Bhajan Lal), Gohana (Dharampal Malik) and Indri (Rakesh Kamboj) - are important to announce its arrival in state politics.

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