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Newsmaker | New Haryana Cong chief Udai Bhan a Hooda man, says ‘Must work under his leadership’

Family with links in politics since British times, son of 'Aya Ram, Gaya Ram' fame Gaya Lal

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Chandigarh |
Updated: April 28, 2022 8:25:47 am
Bhan replaces Kumari Selja, a known rival of Hooda, who resigned from the HPCC chief's post. (File Photo: Twitter/@HodalUdaiBhan)

The 67-year-old Dalit leader and former MLA, Udai Bhan, who has been appointed as the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC) president by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi Wednesday, is known to be a close confidant of state party stalwart Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly and ex-chief minister. Bhan replaces Kumari Selja, a known rival of Hooda, who resigned from the HPCC chief’s post.

Bhan’s elevation has come as a shot in the arm to the Hooda camp in the faction-ridden Haryana Congress. Congress sources told The Indian Express that it was Hooda who had first suggested Bhan’s name to the party high command as the new HPCC president. Hooda, who has majority of the party MLAs on his side, had been seeking Selja’s removal for a long time. As the party wanted to maintain a caste balance in the state unit leadership, it considered Bhan as a “fit candidate” for replacing Selja, who too belongs to the Dalit community.

A four-time MLA from Hodal and Hassanpur constituencies in Haryana’s Palwal, Bhan, who is a third-generation politician, has been brought to the helms of the state Congress at a crucial time when the party has been reeling under infighting and dissension.

pre Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party leaders from Haryana in a group phootgraph, during a meeting in New Delhi. (PTI/File)

Talking to The Indian Express, Bhan said, “I welcome the responsibility that party has entrusted upon me. The prime objective will be to strengthen the party at the ground level. We all shall be working under the able leadership and guidance of Bhupinder Singh Hooda and take Congress to new heights. Since there is no leadership issue in the party’s state unit now, we all shall be working together and strengthen the party at the levels of block, booth, district and state.”

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Welcoming Bhan’s appointment as the HPCC chief, Hooda told the Express, “It is a good decision that party high command has taken. Udai Bhan is a grassroots-level leader and a dependable Congress worker. The (four) working presidents appointed by the party shall also be working with him. It shall provide new strength to the Congress in Haryana.”

Selja’s resignation came days after senior state leaders had a slugfest at a meeting held by top party leader Rahul Gandhi in Delhi last month. Since then, the Congress’s Haryana in-charge Vivek Bansal had been urging the leadership to revamp the state unit.

Selja had replaced Ashok Tanwar as the HPCC president in September 2019. Hooda had also been at loggerheads with Tanwar, getting him ousted from his post and eventually from the party itself.

The moves of Bhan’s father Gaya Lal had led to the coinage of the widely-known political expression “Aaya Ram Gaya Ram (repeated party-hopping)” when he changed three political parties within a fortnight, barely a few months after Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966. The phrase was coined when Gaya Lal, the then Hodal MLA, won the election as an Independent candidate in early 1967 and joined the Congress.

However, soon afterwards, he switched parties thrice in a few days, first by defecting to the United Front, then returning to the Congress, and then again switching back to the United Front. In the midst of his party-hopping, the then Congress leader Rao Birender Singh, who had engineered his switch to the grand old party, brought Gaya Lal to a press conference at Chandigarh and declared, “Gaya Ram is now Aaya Ram”.

Bhan had also faced charges under anti-defection law when he joined the Congress in 2004 as an Independent MLA. He had been elected as the MLA thrice from Hassanpur (in 1987, 2000 and 2005) and once from Hodal after delimitation (in 2014). He was the Krishak Bharti Cooperative Limited (KRIBHCO) chairman from November 19, 1989 to May 18, 1993.

Bhan’s grandfather Ch. Dharam Singh had been a councillor in the Municipal Committee, Hodal, for three consecutive terms from 1928 to 1942 during the British rule. Bhan’s elder son Raj Gopal and his younger son Devesh Kumar have also been in public life and been associated with the Congress.

The Bhan family is credited with the construction of Ambedkar Bhawan and Ravidas Bhawan at Hodal, which offer hostel facilities for underprivileged students, among other things. On the occasion of Guru Ravidas Jayanti on February 16, 2022, Bhan organised a Sarv Jatiya Vivah Sammelan in which 42 underprivileged couples got married without any dowry. He has also been convening the Dalit panchayats regularly to discuss issues like rights of vulernable sections and atrocities against them.

The Haryana Assembly polls are slated for October 2024. In the 2019 polls to the 90-member state Assembly, the Congress had won 31 seats as against the incumbent BJP’s 40 and the JJP’s 10. Since the BJP had fallen short of a simple majority, it entered into a post-poll alliance with the JJP and formed their coalition government. Bhan’s task is cut out now as the Congress sets its house in order and gears up to take on the saffron party at the hustings.

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