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BJP Eyes Gains in Rajasthan, Haryana as Kuldeep Bishnoi Joins the Saffron Fold

Although he had strained relations with the BJP earlier, Bishoi now hopes to play a major role in state politics.

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Chandigarh: Ending weeks of suspense, senior Congress leader from Haryana Kuldeep Bishnoi is joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday (August 4).

He announced this move soon after resigning from the Haryana assembly on Wednesday.

His joining the saffron party, currently ruling Haryana, was almost certain soon after the Congress expelled him last month for voting against the party candidate in the Rajya Sabha election.

Bishnoi, who was eying the post of Haryana Congress president, was miffed for being ignored in the recent party rejig. Instead of him, the party came under control of his bête noire and former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Hooda in 2005 too had trounced his father and three times Congress chief minister Bhajan Lal for the chief minister’s post.

Since then the Bishnoi family, which once had considerable influence in Haryana’s political corridors, has been struggling.

An MLA from the Adampur seat in Hisar, Bishnoi in all probability is likely to retain the seat in a by-election, given that this seat is his family borough.

Although he wants the BJP to nominate his son for the Adampur by-elections, the chances of that look remote, since the party may not want to take any risks.

The Congress has been downplaying the latest political development, with Hooda saying that his exit will not affect the party. The BJP’s game plan, however, is clear.

Haryana politics after the emergence of the BJP in 2014 has been polarised into Jat vs non-Jat groups.

Bishnoi’s family has for long been popular among non-Jat castes in Haryana. His father, Bhajan Lal, had been the tallest non-Jat leader of the Congress.

The BJP thinks that Bishnoi’s entry would strengthen the party in cementing its position with non-Jat voters.

While the Haryana elections are far away, the party wants him to deliver first in Rajasthan. There are 20-22 Bishnoi caste dominated seats in the state. The Bishnois, who are a close-knit community, can be influenced to vote for the party in Rajasthan assembly polls next year in 2023.

His entry may cause a lot of heartburn among leaders in the saffron fold, as Bishnoi had a strained relationship – and even sour – with the BJP in the past.

Also read: Kuldeep Bishnoi May Not Be a Big Loss for Congress, But Could Be a Big Win for BJP

After being ignored by the Congress, he and his father floated the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) in 2007. The party did well in the 2009 assembly polls by winning six assembly seats.

But Hooda engineered defections in Bishnoi’s party, taking away five of the six MLAs after the Congress fell short of a majority in that election.

Fighting for political survival, Bishnoi in 2011 entered into an alliance with the BJP, which, unlike today, was not a big player in Haryana politics then.

Three years later, Narendra Modi’s popularity gave wings to the BJP in Haryana.

After winning most of the parliament seats in Haryana in the 2014 general elections, the BJP was not keen to concede too many seats to Bishnoi’s party in the state assembly polls, which were scheduled for six months after the general elections.

This led to Bishnoi breaking ties with the BJP and accusing it of betrayal.

While the BJP ended up forming the government on its own, Bishnoi’s party could win just two seats, leaving his political career in peril.

Cut to size by the BJP, Bishnoi merged his party back with the Congress in 2016. There too he continued to sulk, ultimately having to leave the party once he was pushed against the wall by the Hooda camp.

Kushal Pal, a political analyst and head of the department of political science at Dyal Singh College in Karnal, told The Wire that on the basis of his past relation with the BJP, Bishnoi future there will be no cakewalk.

First, there are already many prominent non-Jat leaders in the BJP in Haryana, who may not like his entry in the party and create problems for him.

That is why he took so much time deciding on his joining, as he too probably was aware of this, added Pal.

He then said the mood among his supporters is also a bit sombre, as they have felt betrayed by the BJP in 2014.

His future depends on how much prominence he gets in the BJP, although it appears from previous experiences that he will have to struggle hard, said Pal.