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New Delhi: Instead of being able to create a next generation of leaders in Haryana, the Congress has been losing younger leaders of the party at a rapid pace. While a few years ago, former president of the state unit of the party Ashok Tanwar had left following differences with former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, now a similar script has played out with former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi.
Bishnoi, who was eyeing the state president’s post, was upset when the party overlooked his candidature in April this year and chose Hooda loyalist Udai Bhan instead. The past 2.5 months saw 53-year-old Bishnoi move away from the Congress. He cross-voted against the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate Ajay Maken and was subsequently removed by the party from all key posts.
Bishnoi revealed his future political ambitions when he met BJP national president J.P. Nadda and Union home minister Amit Shah on Sunday.
Is Bishnoi all set to join the BJP?
It is now being speculated that Bishnoi might resign from his Adampur seat and join the saffron party. This would be a big blow to the Congress since Bishnoi holds considerable sway over members of his community, who form a significant voter base in central and western Haryana. Apart from this, Bishnoi is also seen as a strong non-Jat leader in this belt.
With the Jats, who constitute nearly 30% of Haryana’s population, being the single-largest and most politically dominant group in the state, a strong clutch of leaders has emerged over the years who have the backing of other prominent sections like the Dalits, Vaishyas, Bishnois and members of various smaller sects.
Adampur, which Bishnoi represents, has for the last over 50 years been a pocket borough of his family’s. While Bhajan Lal won this seat nine times, Bishnoi won it thrice and two of the family’s women members once each. In this constituency, around 15% of the voters are from the Bishnoi sect – but over the years, other communities have rallied around the family.
However, the Congress has over the years gravitated more and more towards Hooda, who it feels remains its strongest leader in the state. In fact, former chief minister and former Union minister Bhajan Lal too had parted ways from the party in 2005 and floated the Haryana Janhit Congress (Bhajan Lal) after the Congress decided to make Hooda the chief minister instead of Lal following a resounding victory in the assembly elections.
Bishnoi had formed his own HJC in 2007 and nurtured it till 2016, when he merged it into the Congress. Though his coming to the party strengthened it and after Tanwar’s exit he was seen as a young face who could revive the fortunes of the party, which has yielded space to the BJP, Bishnoi was unable to impress the central leadership enough to be handed the party reins in the state.
Congress overlooked Bishnoi for state chief post
When Bishnoi was not made the state president in April this year, senior Congress spokesperson and former MP Randeep Singh Surjewala had made his displeasure known at the move saying, “Kuldeep Bishnoi would have been the best state unit president.” He had probably sensed that this would only antagonise Bishnoi, who had been working hard to galvanise the party against the BJP-JJP alliance.
Bishnoi too had tweeted that he was “very angry”. He had reasons to feel dejected. While the party had accommodated leaders from various other factions in the state unit rejig, it had not given any position to a leader from the Bishnoi camp.
Bishnoi had, however, initially not displayed his anger and said he would “ask Rahul (Gandhi) ji for an answer” before taking any further step. But he was seething within and his actions spoke clearer than his words.
In the Rajya Sabha elections last month, Bishnoi cross-voted against party candidate Ajay Maken. This was one of the reasons that led to the victory of BJP-backed independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma in the elections. Another reason for the defeat was that the vote of another party MLA was declared invalid. This shocked the Congress, as owing to its strength in the assembly it was assured of one of the two seats.
Bishnoi later tweeted: “I know how to crush a snake’s hood. I do not leave the jungle in fear of snakes.”
The Congress hit back, expelling him from all party positions. This drew another sharp response from Bishnoi, who tweeted: “Congress also has rules for some leaders and exceptions for others. Rules are applied selectively. Indiscipline has been repeatedly ignored in the past. In my case, I listened to my soul and acted on my morals.”
He also hit out at the party for repeatedly backing Hooda, saying: “I do not need anyone’s certificate. It is the people who gave me a certificate and they elected me with a big margin even when the Congress was in opposition in the 2019 polls.”
Bishnoi crucial to BJP’s future Lok Sabha, assembly poll plans
Now by openly declaring that it was a “real honour and pleasure to meet Amit Shah” and terming him “a true statesman”, Bishnoi has made his intentions of warming up to the BJP known. He was also all praise for Nadda and declared that “his easy-going and humble nature sets him apart”.
Congress’s loss could well prove to be BJP’s gain here. The saffron party has been struggling to retain its hold among the rural population of Haryana ever since protests broke out in the state over the new farm laws, which have since been repealed. The agitation of over the Agnipath military recruitment scheme has also harmed its prospects.
While BJP along with JJP did perform well in the recent civic body polls, it cannot rely on the outcome of these elections, which have a more local flavour, to indicate a revival in its fortunes. Also, the party, which won all the seats in Haryana in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, knows that a similar outcome will be necessary in 2024 as well if the Modi government hopes to return to power.
After cultivating Bishnoi, the BJP will now be looking to nurturing him to fulfil its further ambitions in the state. The Bishnoi community also has a significant presence in Rajasthan which goes to polls in 2023 and there again the BJP would like to employ the services of Kuldeep Bishnoi.