Former Haryana chief minister Chaudhary Devi Lal’s influence in Indian politics, especially in non-Congress camp, had drawn former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the state, apart from its close proximity to the national capital. From 70s, Devi Lal, who later rose to become the deputy prime minister, had started his struggle against the Congress. At the time, all the non-Congress parties were attempting to unite against the party. Janta Party, of which Jan Sangh was also part, won the 1977 Assembly elections and Devi Lal became the Haryana Chief Minister.
After its formation in 1980, the BJP joined hands with Lok Dal (now INLD) in 1987 for then Haryana Assembly elections. “To maintain secrecy for alliance talks, on the suggestion of Vajpayee ji, a meeting between the leaders of Lok Dal and BJP was held at Scindia Villa in New Delhi. Apart from Devi Lal, only I was part of the Lok Dal delegation. As per the alliance, 17 seats out of 90 Assembly segments were given to the BJP,” says Ran Singh Mann who is now spokesperson of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee.
“Then Vajpayee had thrown a dinner and sought one more seat for Hindu Mahasabha, which had fielded Kailash Chander Sharma from Narnaul,” Mann recalls. Both parties had succeeded to form the government with a thumping majority when Devi Lal had become the Chief Minister.
BJP MP from Bhiwani- Mahendragarh, Dharambir Singh, who as a Lok Dal candidate had defeated the then chief minister Bansi Lal from Tosham constituency in 1987, recalls, “Vajpayee had come to address an election rally at Fatehabad when there was a bypoll there in 1987. Vajpayee had spoken before Devi Lal in the rally.” This bypoll was interesting as CPI(M) had fielded its candidate against the BJP from here, though, the saffron party had won the bypoll. However, in the Haryana Assembly election of 1987, Lok Dal (now INLD), BJP and communist parties had fought the polls as alliance partners.
Senior INLD leader and grandson of Devi Lal Abhay Singh Chautala recalls how Vajpayee had addressed a massive rally at Boat Club in New Delhi, which was organised to celebrate the 75th birthday of Devi Lal, fondly called ‘tau’ Devi Lal, during late 80s. Chautala claims that Vajpayee had appreciated Devi Lal in 1987 for exploring the possibility of developing Gurgaon as a hub of modern Haryana.
When Devi Lal died in 2001, the Chautala family had plans to cremate his body in their native village Chautala in Sirsa district situated on Rajasthan border. “When (Om Prakash) Chautala ji told him about these plans, Vajpayee ji insisted that he should be cremated in New Delhi itself. Vajpayee ji had even called a meeting of Union Cabinet to ensure an appropriate place for cremation of Devi Lal for his contribution to the farming community and creating political awareness among the people of rural areas. Devi Lal ji was older than Vajpayee ji, so he always respected him,” says Abhay. Vajpyee was present when the mortal remains of Devi Lal were consigned to the flames at Kisan Ghat in New Delhi.
In a poll alliance during late 90s, the INLD was allotted six Lok Sabha seats, while leaving four to its junior partner BJP in Haryana. “Then, Vajpayee ji had asked (Om Prakash) Chautala sahab to give one more seat to the BJP. But, Chautala offered all 10 seats to the BJP. Though, Vapayee ji insisted on only one more seat and one candidate. Then, Chautala sahab had given one seat and one candidate (Kishan Singh Sangwan) from INLD to field him as a BJP nominee. The alliance had won all 10 seats,” recalls Abhay.
Haryana Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Minister Om Prakash Dhankar says, “Vajpayee ji had been coming to Haryana since the days of Jan Sangh. He addressed rallies in almost all areas of the state. He used to keenly observe even small issues. Once, there were plans to drop Kamla Verma’s candidature from the list of BJP candidates for the Vidhan Sabha polls, but Vajpayee ji intervened and ensured her a ticket. That time, I was member of election committee being the state general secretary of the party.”
Dhankar also recalls how they had gone to meet Vajpayee, the then prime minister, regarding seat sharing with the INLD ahead of 2000 Assembly polls. Then, BJP, which had sought 35 seats out of 90 constituencies from its alliance partner INLD, had got 29 seats to contest the Assembly polls and the INLD-BJP alliance had formed the government.
“Once our Haryana team of BJP had gone to Vajpayee with some grievances during the Chautala regime. Then, Vajpayee ji had told us that other political parties approached him with similar kind of complaints from the states where the BJP was in power,” said Dhankar. Meanwhile, the INLD has withdrawn its call of Haryana Bandh’ for Saturday, which was given over the SYL issue, in view of the demise of Vajpayee.