With the All India Congress Committee (AICC) leadership expelling senior Haryana Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, the Adampur MLA, from all party positions — including as a special invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) — for cross-voting in the June 10 Rajya Sabha election in favour of the ruling BJP-JJP-backed Independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma instead of the party’s nominee Ajay Maken, the BJP is now hoping that Bishnoi will join its fold.
The son of former Haryana chief minister late Bhajan Lal, Bishnoi, the 53-year-old four-time MLA and two-time MP, had been sulking since the AICC leadership appointed Udai Bhan, a staunch loyalist of the Leader of the Opposition and ex-CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, as the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president one-and-a-half months ago. Bishnoi, a known detractor of Hooda, was also an aspirant for the HPCC chief’s post. Since Bhan’s appointment as the state party chief, Bishnoi has appeared to be warming up to the BJP dispensation followed by his cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls that led to Maken’s defeat at the hands of Sharma.
The stage now seems to be set for Bishnoi to switch to the saffron party. His father Bhajan Lal, a Congress veteran and three-time CM, was the prominent non-Jat leader in Haryana, a state whose politics is driven mainly by caste equations. He worked his way up from the position of a village sarpanch to panchayat samiti chief to legislator to the CM. His third chief ministerial tenure was during 1991-1996. In 2005 too, when the grand old party emerged victorious in the state Assembly polls, Bhajan was a strong claimant for the CM’s post but Hooda managed to get the better of him and remained the CM for consecutive two terms. In 2007, Bishnoi along with his father floated their own political outfit, Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC).
After his father’s death, the Bishnoi-led HJC entered into a poll alliance with the BJP, which broke up prior to the 2014 Assembly polls. Following a meeting with top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in 2016, Bishnoi decided to merge his HJC with the Congress. His supporters have always projected him as a CM face. They hope that if he joins the BJP he would get a significant government assignment. There are already talks of a bypoll in the Adampur constituency soon. The Bishnoi family has never lost any election from Adampur over the last five decades.
Bishnoi’s induction into its fold may give the BJP a shot in the arm in its bid to woo the Bishnoi community in neighbouring Rajasthan, where the Assembly polls are scheduled next year. The Akhil Bharatiya Bishnoi Mahasabha (ABBM)’s president Devendra Bishnoi, who hails from Jodhpur, told The Indian Express that Bishnois have a considerable presence in 32 Assembly constituencies across Rajasthan. “If Kuldeep Bishnoi joins BJP, a majority of them may move towards the saffron party,” he claimed. The Bishnoi community also has a significant presence in a few seats in Haryana’s Fatehabad and Hisar districts. Kuldeep Bishnoi himself is the ABBM’s patron and like his father he has remained actively involved in its activities.
Reacting to his expulsion from Congress posts, Bishnoi said: “Congress 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.” However, a close Bishnoi associate said his cross-voting against the Congress candidate in the Rajya Sabha polls was actually a “show of resistance” against the “supremacy” of the Hooda family in the state party politics.
On the other hand, Hooda’s supporters feel the Congress’s action against Bishnoi would not impact the party’s prospects in the state. They seem to be rather happy that “the party has shown the door to a Hooda detractor for his own fault”.
A close Hooda associate said: “Kuldeep Bishnoi’s support base has shrunk to just one seat (Adampur) in Haryana. His son Bhavya Bishnoi had come
third in Hisar in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. How can he influence voters in Rajasthan when he is not able to win seats in Haryana?”
At a meeting of senior Haryana Congress leaders held by Rahul Gandhi in Delhi a few months ago, Bishnoi had staked his claim over the HPCC chief’s post, projecting himself as a prominent non-Jat leader. It was, however, shot down by Hooda’s son Deepender, a Rajya Sabha MP, and some other leaders, who dismissed his claim as “untenable” while pointing to his son’s Hisar performance.