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How BJP hopes to gain by taking Kuldeep Bishnoi into its fold

By Nitin Kumar
August 10, 2022 17:33 IST
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'Neither the Congress will lose anything nor will the BJP gain anything.'

Nitin Kumar reports from Chandigarh.

IMAGE: BJP national president JP Nadda congratulates newly joined party leaders Kuldeep Bishnoi (second from right) and Renuka Bishnoi, as Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar looks on, in New Delhi, August 4, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

“Let bygones be bygones. We are here to get the country rid of communal forces and eradicate the Bharatiya Janata Party from the political map.”

This was what Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal, said when he merged his Haryana Janhit Congress into the Indian National Congress in April 2016.

 

Five years later, on August 4, Bishnoi joined the very party he wanted to eradicate.

Two days before he formally joined the BJP, he tweeted: “Every bird is injured here, but the one who could fly again is alive.”

The move came months after Bishnoi had a series of meetings with the BJP leadership -- party president JP Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar.

According to sources, cross-voting by Bishnoi in favour of a BJP-backed independent candidate during the Rajya Sabha polls in July -- which resulted in his expulsion from designated posts in the Congress -- was to prove his commitment to the BJP.

“Cross-voting was Bishnoi’s repentance for breaking the alliance with the BJP before the 2014 Assembly polls. It also helped the BJP deliver a humiliating defeat to senior Congress leader Ajay Makan, who was the latter's Rajya Sabha candidate,” said a senior BJP leader.

An unfulfilled wish

Bishnoi, 53, is a four-time member of the legislative assembly, two-term member of Parliament, and son of Haryana’s longest-serving CM, but unlike his father, he has never been a minister.

Bhajan Lal headed several state and Union portfolios, including agriculture and environment, and forest during Rajiv Gandhi’s administration.

When it comes to influence, Bishnoi's outreach is limited to the Bishnoi community, spread over three assembly seats in the Hisar Lok Sabha constituency.

Though the community is small in Haryana, it has a significant presence in 25-30 assembly seats in Rajasthan.

Bishnoi has also not been able to unite non-Jats behind him in the state as his father did in the 1970s.

However, political scientists believe that Bishnoi would help mobilise his community in support of the BJP in Haryana, though this may not have any major impact in Rajasthan.

“Rajasthan has its own Bishnoi leadership, and there Bishnoi can help the BJP only on two-three seats,” said Kushal Pal, state coordinator, Lokniti, and head of the department of political science at Dyal Singh College, Karnal.

Chaudhary Birender Singh, former steel and panchayati raj minister in Modi 1.0 government, said: “Kuldeep is not considered a leader of non-Jats in the state like his father was. He can go to Rajasthan but cannot influence voters.”

Singh further said: “Bhajan Lal successfully declared himself a leader of non-Jats and became chief minister but the BJP borrowed his strategy and formed the government in Haryana in 2014. What does Kuldeep have to offer?”

Singh’s son Brijendra Singh defeated Bishnoi’s son Bhavya Bishnoi from Hisar in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

Former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda echoed Singh’s opinion while speaking with Business Standard.

“Neither the Congress will lose anything nor will the BJP gain anything,” he said.

History repeats itself

According to experts, Bishnoi had been sulking since the Congress ignored him for the post of its Haryana unit chief during a revamp earlier this year.

The Congress leadership chose Hooda loyalist Udai Bhan instead.

Bishnoi followed his father's footsteps who also left the Congress in 2005 and floated the HJC (in 2007) after the Congress decided to make Hooda the CM, instead of Lal, following a resounding victory in the assembly election.

On the reason for Bishnoi joining the BJP, a political expert said: “The Rs 200-crore foreign assets case could also be the reason for him joining the party.”

In July 2019, the income tax department raided the properties of Bishnoi and his family allegedly unearthing foreign assets worth more than Rs 200 crore.

Political experts believe taking Bishnoi into its fold is the BJP’s strategic move to avoid a repeat of the 2019 assembly polls when the party fell short of the majority mark.

Pal said: “The BJP needs Bishnoi as a panna pramukh (in charge of a page each of the voters’ list).”

“Though the BJP will not get much from Bishnoi joining the party, it will definitely hurt the prospects of the Congress, which does not have its own leadership in Hisar,” he said.

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Nitin Kumar in Chandigarh
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