The waning legacy of the ‘Lal families’ mark a significant change in Haryana’s political scene

For the first time, the families of Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal have been pushed out of the electoral contest, while the Chautalas, political heirs of Chaudhary Devi Lal, struggle to remain relevant following the split in the INLD and the formation of the JJP

Updated - May 11, 2024 11:50 pm IST

Published - May 11, 2024 10:59 pm IST - GURUGRAM

Bhajan Lal and, right, Bansi Lal.

Bhajan Lal and, right, Bansi Lal. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

For more than four decades after Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966, the politics of the agrarian State largely revolved around its three famous Lals — Chaudhary Devi Lal, Bansi Lal, and Bhajan Lal — before the trio passed away in the first decade of the present century, leaving behind a rich political legacy.

Though none of the three political families could match the charisma of the trio, who ruled the State several times and also left a mark in national politics, it is for the first time that the families of Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal have been pushed out of the electoral contest after being denied tickets by their respective parties in the ongoing Lok Sabha election.

The Congress has denied a ticket to the late Bansi Lal’s granddaughter Shruti Choudhry, the party’s State working president, from the family’s traditional Bhiwani-Mahendragarh Lok Sabha seat. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has chosen Chaudhary Devi Lal’s son Ranjit Chautala over former Lok Sabha MP Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of the late Bhajan Lal, for the Hisar Lok Sabha seat.

Bansi Lal, two-time Congress Chief Minister who also served as Defence Minister from December 1975 to March 1977, floated the Haryana Vikas Party in 1996 and became the CM for the third time with the promise to prohibit alcohol. In 2004, however, he returned to the Congress’ fold, and breathed his last in March 2006. Credited with the electrification and expansion of the road and railway networks in the State, Mr. Bansi Lal is known as the architect of modern Haryana. One of his two sons, Surender Singh, then Minister in the Haryana government, died in a helicopter crash in 2005.

Mr. Singh’s wife Kiran Choudhry, a two-time Haryana Cabinet Minister and former Congress Legislative Party leader, and the couple’s daughter, Shruti, a former Bhiwani-Mahendragarh Lok Sabha MP, have mostly remained politically confined to the family’s traditional stronghold of Bhiwani.

Known for his political acumen, Bhajan Lal too floated his own party in 2007, the Haryana Janhit Congress, after the Congress preferred Bhupinder Singh Hooda over him for the chief ministership in 2005. Eventually, his son Kuldeep Bishnoi merged the party with the Congress in 2016, but joined the BJP in 2022 after he was overlooked for the post of party’s State president. Contesting on the Congress’ symbol, Mr. Bishnoi’s son Bhavya Bishnoi, who is currently the BJP’s Adampur MLA, finished a distant third in the Hisar Lok Sabha election in 2019. Bhajan Lal’s second son, Chander Mohan, who made headlines for changing his religion and marrying advocate Anuradha Bali alias Fiza, is with the Congress.

Struggling to remain relevant in the State politics following the split in Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the formation of Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) in 2018, the Chautalas, the political heirs of Chaudhary Devi Lal, are confined to only two Lok Sabha seats. Making it a contest within the family, the JJP’s Naina Chautala and the INLD’s Sunaina Chautala, who are sisters-in-law, are up against their father-in-law Mr. Ranjit Chautala in the Hisar Lok Sabha seat. INLD’s secretary-general and the party’s lone MLA, Abhay Chautala, grandson of Chaudhary Devi Lal, is caught in a triangular fight in Kurukshetra with the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Sushil Gupta, a joint candidate of the INDIA bloc, and the BJP’s Naveen Jindal.

Though the JJP and the INLD have fielded 10 and six Lok Sabha candidates each, it’s a direct contest between the Congress and the BJP on all ten Lok Sabha seats in Haryana.

An iconic farmer leader, Chaudhary Devi Lal was the Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1990-91.

Rajendra Sharma, Head, Department of Political Science, Maharishi Dayanand University, said the political decline of the three Lal families had begun long back, but the denial of Lok Sabha tickets to the families of Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal marked the end of their political influence in the State’s politics. “The rise of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in the Congress in 2005, and the BJP forming its first simple majority government in 2014, marked the beginning of the decline of the political influence of Bhajan Lal and the Chautalas. Ms. Shruti Choudhry losing the previous Lok Sabha election in 2019 indicated the decline of the political influence of Bansi Lal’s family. Now, the three families seem to be fighting to protect their small pocket boroughs,” Prof. Sharma said.

The focus on this election has shifted to the Hoodas. It has to be seen whether Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda manages to pass on his political baton to his son and Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Hooda, or if the Hoodas too get pushed to the political margins, Prof. Sharma said.

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