Updated: August 4, 2019 12:51:22 am
WHILE the large-scale crossing over by MLAs resulted in state governments falling in Karnataka and Goa recently, they were still no match for what a Haryana legislator managed in 1967, back when shadows had just started appearing over Indian democracy’s golden halo. In the process, Gaya Lal also lent the term ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ to the country’s political lexicon.
The month was February, and there was political uncertainty in the air. The Congress had returned to power at the Centre with its lowest tally till then (283 out of 520), under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. The party had suffered setbacks in Assembly polls in several states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Orissa (now Odisha), Madras (now Tamil Nadu) and Kerala. This had triggered a tussle for power between the Congress and an Opposition combine, consisting of the Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party, Samyukta Socialist Party, Praja Socialist Party, regional parties and defectors from the Congress. The Opposition coalition gave its state regimes an umbrella identity — the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) governments.
For Haryana, carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966, it was its first Assembly election. While the Congress won, it was with a thin majority of 48 out of 81 seats. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh got 12 seats, Swatantra Party three and Republican Party two. The Independents formed the second-largest block, with 16 seats. One of them was Gaya Lal, winning from Hasanpur (SC) constituency.
Congress Chief Minister Bhagwat Dayal Sharma was sworn in on March 10, 1967. Within a week, his government fell after 12 Congress MLAs defected, forming a group that they dubbed the ‘Haryana Congress’. The Independent legislators also forged a new party, ‘United Front’. The process of switching sides continued, swelling the United Front ranks eventually to 48 MLAs.
Consequently, on March 24, Rao Birendra Singh (father of present Union Minister of State Rao Inderjit Singh), who had been elected from Pataudi on a Congress ticket, took over as CM under the SVD banner. His position was flimsy at best, threatened by both Bhagwat Dayal Sharma and Devi Lal, who was still in the Congress.
However, if there was one man who defined those days of uncertainty, it was Gaya Lal. Within nine hours, the MLA changed sides twice — in and out of the Congress — and within a fortnight, moved to the United Front.
Presenting him at a press conference in Chandigarh after having overthrown Sharma, a beaming Rao Birendra uttered those inimitable words “Gaya Ram is now Aya Ram”. Then home minister Y B Chavan later used the phrase in Parliament to denote political turncoats.
But Rao lasted only a few months, demitting office on November 2. The Assembly was dissolved and the state placed under President’s Rule, followed by elections in 1968.
Meanwhile, Gaya Lal marched on. After the United Front, his next stop was the Arya Sabha, led by Indervesh, Agnivesh and Adityavesh, in 1972. Two years later, he found his way into the Bharatiya Lok Dal, led by Charan Singh. Consequently, he got a Janata Party (formed by the merger of four parties, including the Bharatiya Lok Dal) ticket in 1977 and won. Gaya Lal’s last election was in 1982, as an Independent. He lost.
By the time he died in 2009, Gaya Lal had paved the way for son Udai Bhan. In the 1987 Assembly elections, Bhan, a Lok Dal-BJP candidate, won, riding a wave in favour of the combine; he lost in 1991, as a Janata Party nominee; tasted defeat again in 1996, as an Independent; won a second time, in 2000, as an Independent; joined the Indian National Lok Dal; defected to the Congress in 2004 but lost; and a year later, returned to the Assembly as a Congress candidate.
However, long before then, Haryana had moved on — to five-star defections, showing the way again to the rest of the country. In 1979, facing competition from incumbent Janata Party CM Devi Lal, Bhajan Lal set off with dissident party MLAs on “Bharat Darshan”. For over two weeks, the group, on a luxury bus and a fleet of cars, toured Alwar, Kota, Agra, Gwalior, Shivpuri, Bhopal, Kanpur, Kolkata and Mumbai, staying at heritage hotels and resorts, with Bhajan Lal picking up the entire tab. It paid off, and on June 29, 1979, he became the CM.
After Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre, Bhajan Lal converted his Janata Party government wholescale into a Congress government, on January 22, 1980, taking along 37 party MLAs.
At least Bhagwat Dayal Sharma, the first victim of Haryana’s topsy-turvy politics, retained his good cheer through it. As the CM during the March 1967 phase of defections and counter-defections, while he was headed one day for the MLAs’ hostel to try win over some potential turncoats, an aide came up running to tell him, “Sahib, Pandit Tuhi Ram has also left.” “Pandit Tuhi Ram?” Sharma said, askance. “Phone lagao (connect me to him).” The aide indicated there was no hope; the news was on All-India Radio.
Known for his wit, Sharma quipped, “Just check, maybe Panditayin too has defected.” Panditayin being his own wife Savitri Devi.
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