He served as Chief Minister of Haryana for two terms

Veteran politician, non-Jat leader, a former Haryana Chief Minister and sitting Hisar Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) MP Bhajan Lal (80) died on Friday in Hisar following a massive heart attack.

He is survived by his wife Jasma Devi, politician sons Chander Mohan and Kuldeep Bishnoi and a daughter. He died at a private nursing home in Hisar. His body was taken to his Hisar residence and will be buried at Mandi Adamgarh according to ‘Bishnoi' rites on Saturday.

The Haryana government has declared a three-day State mourning.

Mr. Bhajan Lal served as the Chief Minister of Haryana from June 28, 1979 to July 5, 1985 and again from July 23, 1991 to May 11, 1996.

He was born on October 6, 1930 in Koranwali village of Bahawalpur district, now in Pakistan. A self-made man who once sold wares on his cycle, Bhajan Lal had a chequered career in politics which began as a “village Sarpanch.”

His defection from the Janata Party in 1979, along with a handful of MLAs, to the Congress with the blessings of the late Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, is believed to have led to the coining of the expression “Aaya Ram and Gaya Ram.''

He also served as a Union Minister during Rajiv Gandhi's stint as Prime Minister.

In 1991, he pipped the then Haryana Congress chief Birender Singh to the post to become the Chief Minister, allegedly through “manipulations.''

Political analysts say his proximity to the late Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, ultimately proved to be his undoing. The Congress headed by Bhajan Lal suffered its worst-ever electoral debacle in Haryana in the 1986 polls. He was gradually sidelined in the Congress with the emergence of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the post-1986 scenario.

However, he was appointed president of the Haryana unit of the Congress a few years later and the 2005 Assembly polls were fought under his leadership. Though the Congress won a sizeable number of seats, his hopes of becoming Chief Minister for a third term were dashed when the powers that be anointed Mr.Hooda as the Chief Minister.

Though Mr. Chander Mohan was appointed Deputy Chief Minister, Bhajan Lal and Mr.Bishnoi, who was elected Congress MP from Bhiwani, could not reconcile themselves to the turn of events. They later floated the Haryana Janhit Congress in 2007. Despite having parted ways with the Congress, he still had many friends in the Congress at the Central level.

In his condolence message, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda described Mr. Bhajan Lal as an experienced leader who spent his life serving the masses. Mr.Hooda also recalled the departed leader's long association with the Congress.

Punjab Governor Shivraj V. Patil described Mr. Bhajan Lal as a “seasoned politician and a good administrator who strived for the upliftment of the poor.''

The former Haryana Chief Minister and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) supremo, Om Parkash Chautala, also paid rich tributes to the departed leader.

Correction

(* * In the report “Bhajan Lal passes away” (June 4, 2011), it was mentioned that the Congress suffered its worst-ever electoral debacle in 1986 polls and that he (Bhajan Lal) was sidelined in the Congress with the emergence of Hooda in the post- 1986 scenario. The year should have been 1996.)