Udai Bhan was appointed as the Haryana Congress president by party supremo Sonia Gandhi last Wednesday. A staunch loyalist of Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the 67-year-old Dalit leader has been a four-time MLA, getting elected in 1987 on the Lok Dal ticket, in 2000 as an Independent and in 2005 and 2014 as the Congress nominee. Bhan also faced charges under the anti-defection law when he joined the Congress in 2004 as an Independent MLA.
He, however, is hardly a match for the man synonymous with party-hopping in the country: his father Gaya Lal, whose comings and goings over the course of one day gave birth to the immortal phrase “Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram”.
It was the late 1960s. Haryana had been carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966, and North India was witnessing a backlash against the Congress’s political dominance. Parties from Left to Right were rallying behind socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia.
Haryana had its first Assembly polls as a separate state in February 1967. Contesting as an Independent candidate from Hassanpur, reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Gaya Lal defeated the Congress’s M Singh by 360 votes, garnering 10,458 votes against Singh’s 10,098 votes. Days later, he joined the Congress.
In the then 81-member Haryana Assembly, the Congress secured a majority by bagging 48 seats, whereas the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) won 12, Republican Party of India (RPI) 2, Swatantra Party 3 and Independent candidates 16. On March 10, 1967, the Congress’s Bhagwat Dayal Sharma took oath as the CM.
However, within a week, the Sharma government fell as 12 Congress MLAs led by Rao Birender Singh (the father of current Union minister Rao Inderjit Singh) defected from the party.
This coincided with the fall in Uttar Pradesh of the Congress government led by Chandra Bhanu Gupta, where the party had emerged as the single largest with 199 seats in the 425-member House. Here, 17 Congress MLAs under Charan Singh’s leadership raised a banner of revolt, with the latter subsequently taking over as the CM.
In Haryana, the rebel Congress MLAs first formed a group called “Haryana Congress” and then, together with Independent MLAs, floated a new outfit, Samukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) or United Front, headed by Rao Birender. On March 24, 1967, Rao Birender was sworn in as the new CM.
It was just ahead of Rao Birender’s swearing-in that Gaya Lal left the Congress, and switched parties thrice within a span of nine hours. He first defected to the SVD, returned to the Congress quickly, and then switched back to the SVD.
When Gaya Lal made a comeback to the SVD, Rao Birender presented him at a press conference in Chandigarh and announced, “Gaya Ram is now Aaya Ram.” The famous expression in Indian politics for turncoats thus came into existence.
In later years, with various polls throwing up hung House verdicts and governments getting formed with wafer-thin majorities, frequent defections of MPs and MLAs became rampant. The political trend led to the enactment of the anti-defection law in March 1985 during the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government.
Gaya Lal did not contest the 1968 mid-term election. In the 1972 polls, he lost Hassanpur seat as an Akhil Bharatiya Arya Sabha candidate at the hands of the Congress’s Bihari Lal. Later, he returned to the Charan Singh-headed Lok Dal, which was merged with the Janata Party in 1977. In the Assembly polls that followed, he won from the seat on the Janata Party ticket.
In the 1982 polls, his last electoral contest, Gaya Lal again tried his luck as an Independent candidate from Hassanpur, but lost to the Lok Dal’s Giri Raj Kishore. Subsequently, he retired from electoral politics and started nurturing Udai Bhan as his successor.
The son eventually clinched the same seat in 1987 as a Lok Dal candidate. Gaya Lal passed away in 2009.
Days after Udai Bhan was chosen as the Haryana Congress chief, it was clear that the course for him was unlikely to be smoother. Rumblings have already begun in the divided party.