What HJC's merger with Congress means
The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), led by former chief minister, late Bhajan Lal's son Kuldeep Bishnoi, is set to merge with the Congress in Haryana. The move, analysts claim, will benefit both the Congress and the HJC. The Congress wants to overcome the fall out the Jat reservation stir, which has polarised the state, while the HJC wants resurrect itself and capitalise on the non-Jat space that the Congress occupies in the state.
The decision to merge the parties was announced by Bishnoi on Tuesday after a meeting with Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
The HJC is a breakaway faction of the Congress that was founded in 2007 by the three-times chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Lal, after the party sidelined him and began promoting Bhupinder Singh Hooda. While the party was in an alliance with the BSP in 2009, in 2014 it was allied with the BJP.
Bishnoi's main grudge with the BJP was over seat sharing. He wanted HJC to contest 50% of the 90 Assembly seats an wanted the chief minister's post. But when the Narendra Modi led government came to power at the Centre in 2014, the party began eying the Haryana Assembly poll victory for itself and offered Bishnoi 25 seats. Following differences with the BJP leadership, Bishnoi joined hands with the Haryana Jan Chetna Party led by Venod Sharma.
"It is a move to strike a balance within the Congress party. Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has emerged as a strong Jat leader. Bishnoi's induction to the party as a non-Jat leader, who shares a more than cordial relation with Haryana Congress President Dr Ashok Tanwar, brings a sense of balance within the Congress," says Balwant Takshak, a political analyst.
It is believed that Tanwar scripted Bishnoi's return to the party to contain Hooda. Both Hooda and Tanwar are at loggerheads in the state. And Hooda dominates the party with majority of the elected legislators belonging to his camp.
"The Congress has realised that when the party had contested the 2005 polls with Bhajan Lal and Hooda at the forefront, the party had won 67 of the total 90 seats. It came down to 40 when Bhajan Lal moved out," Takshak adds.
Following the caste polarisation in the state after the recent Jat agitation, the Congress has seen its non-Jat voter base slipping away. The BJP has consistently targeted Hooda for inciting violence during the Jat agitation. By projecting the Congress as a party with a strong Jat base, the BJP has been trying to position itself as a destination for non-Jats. If Bishnoi manages to retain his non-Jat support base, it will help increase his stature within the Congress.
The question being raised is: why did Bishnoi announce the merger now? Observers say this is a tactical move to ensure that there is no resistance from within the Congress to his homecoming. Had this merger been announced ahead of an election, noises of discontent and opposition from within the party would have ensued. Secondly, Bishnoi and his party members will get ample time to assimilate within the party. As the polls approach, he can be given a greater responsibility keeping the non-Jat voters in mind.
Despite having a strong political base, the HJC, particularly Bishnoi has failed to make any headway in the state politics, where his father Bhajan Lal is considered to be the stalwart. He was one of the three Lals of Haryana politics, the other two being Bansi Lal and Devi Lal.
With the merger, the Congress has consolidated the political heavyweights in Haryana. The party now has members from the families of both Bhajan Lal and Bansi Lal as the latter's daughter in law Kiran Chaudhary is the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader.
Observers point that in 2009, the Congress sought Bishnoi's support to form the government. The Congress had 40 MLAs, while HJC had six. Bishnoi refused but the Congress managed to get the support of five of the six HJC MLAs.
Whether Bishnoi's return to the Congress benefits the party remains to be see. The BJP, meanwhile, has been taking jibes at the proposed merger. BJP leader Anil Vij reportedly described it as the coming together of two sinking ships. Vij was instrumental in breaking the BJP HJC alliance ahead of the last assembly polls. Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that this simply proves that the BJP government's Opposition is shrinking in size.