In an in-depth interview with The New Indian’s Executive Editor Rohan Dua, Kuldeep Bishnoi reveals the reasons behind the toughest 30 seconds of his life, when his vote led to the defeat of Congress candidate Ajay Maken in the recently held Rajya Sabha polls.
Bishnoi, son of three-time former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal said that his vote was not against Maken, whom he referred to as a friend. Bishnoi, who felt wronged by Rahul Gandhi’s unkept promises, said that his vote is against ‘the wrong decision made by the party’ in selecting the party.
Edited excerpts from his free-wheeling interview in The New Indian‘s Crossfire:
Q: I want to understand what went wrong between you and Ajay Maken.
A: Frankly, I have nothing against Ajay Maken. He is still a very dear friend but he was collateral damage. My vote was against ‘Hooda Congress’. My vote was against the wrong decision made by Congress recently, by making (an) unpopular man a president of the state. Because of that, the Congress party has gone down the drain.
Q: The Congress party was not aware of your plans. At least they were caught unawares. How did it happen?
A: I waited for Rahul Gandhiji to meet me for one whole month and to explain to me the promises he made to me because I am answerable to my people.
Q: What were those promises?
A: I was answerable to my people and Rahulji was answerable to me. And the promises he made me, the promise was that I will be made the president when (Ashok) Tomar’s tenure ends, he didn’t keep his promise.
Q: This was which year?
A: This was three years ago. Seljaji was made the president then. I was okay with it and I supported her and worked with her.
Then suddenly he (Rahul Gandhi) promised me that okay I could not fulfil that promise but when Seljaji’s tenure ends or they remove her or whatever, I will be the president. This was again broken.
I was very clear with Rahulji that when I merged my party, I told him that I am not merging my party for any post or to become an MP and MLA.
I have won one Lok Sabha and two Vidhan Sabha elections on my own ticket. That means my vote bank is personal. Wherever I go, my vote bank follows with me. I told you very clearly that I want to be an asset to the party and use me to form the next Congress government.
Q: So, what was his reply?
A: His reply was okay, of course. The party needs you, that’s why we want you at the party.
Q: What did he promise you?
A: He promised to make me the (party state) president in 2016. Again in November 2018, he said that when Ashok Tanwar’s tenure ends, he will make me the president.
Q: And when Selja was made president, then?
A: Then he said, “I’m sorry my mother has made that decision. You will be made president once Seljaji’s tenure ends”.
Q: And when does her tenure end then?
A: He didn’t meet me. It ended just now.
Q: I’m sure you must have tried to open the communication channel with (Rahul) Gandhi.
A: I tried my best but it was a very big decision for me to vote against my own party. And those 30 seconds when I went to vote, those 30 seconds were the toughest 30 seconds of my life. Voting against your own party, voting against your very dear friend; was a very difficult situation for me. And then I did it. And after voting, I promise you that it has gone really well amongst the cadre of the Congress party as well.
Q: Don’t you feel that you have betrayed their trust or they have betrayed your trust?
A: No, it was not a betraying of trust, it was showing your displeasure, it was showing your anger. Had I voted on day one (after requesting to meet Rahul Gandhi), that would’ve been a betrayal. But because I waited for a full 30 days for my answer from Rahulji to meet me and tell me what should be done.
This decision (to not make Bishnoi the state party president) has not gone down well among the party cadre. Because of the decision, I promise you, the Congress party cannot form the government now because workers are demoralised. The majority of voters have left the Congress party after this decision.
Whenever the Congress party has given free hand to (former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh) Hooda, we have never formed the government. On three occasions, one was in 2009, when he was given free hand, we couldn’t get a majority. In 2014, we couldn’t form a government and it happened again in 2019. He’s not a popular man, people don’t like him. How many times will you try him?
Q: Do you think that because BJP had to bank upon the Chautalas to form this government, they may have to come back to you to seek your support now.
A: Honestly, (Haryana CM) Manohar Lal Khatterji is a very good human being and I feel that he’s a good chief minister. He’s working well and he’s working very honestly. He’s a good human and whenever I have gone as an opposition MLA, he has helped me with whatever genuine problems I told him about my constituency or any other. But in politics, strategically, if I am of any help to the BJP, I am willing to do anything.
Q: Will that also mean that at some stage you may bring back your party and then go ahead and join them?
A: At this point, I cannot say anything because I am taking views of my well-wishers and my workers. You might have seen a lot of gatherings. This has been happening since (June) 11th. People from Rajasthan and people from all over Haryana come. I met them here in Delhi, I went to meet them in Hisar and my constituency Adampur.
I would take a decision keeping in mind the popular sentiment as workers are your backbone. There are many people named Kuldeep Bishnoi but I am Kuldeep Bishnoi because of them.
Q: Today you may have severed your ties with the Congress or they have severed their ties with you. But you have also enjoyed a good relationship with Priyanka Gandhi as well. So what was her response to this? How did she handle it?
A: Yeah, I met Priyankaji and I’ve spoken to her over the phone also. and we’ve been sharing our thoughts on WhatsApp as well. I cannot disclose that because that would be inappropriate.
But yes, she understood my problem. She understood the problem of the Congress party in Haryana. And I clearly told her that our traditional vote bank has gone to BJP. And you should make the president the man who can get that traditional vote bank back. And for that, she promised me that okay if you promise me that there will not be another in-fighting.
Q: Did she also sort of betray your trust?
A: Yeah, both of them had made the promise. It’s a betrayal.
Q: Haryana’s politics today has become an almost polarised debate between jats and non-jats today. Now that AAP has also begun to make serious forays, do you find any challenges from these regional parties or do you think that the national parties will only be the dominant players and they may need your help to form the government?
A: Frankly, I don’t believe in caste politics like jat and non-jat but for me, it’s a very proud thing that non-jat take me as their leader. Of course, I’ve got in the Bishnoi community because we dominate 32 Vidhan Sabhas and seven Lok Sabhas in Rajasthan as well. We are also the traditional vote bank of the Congress party.
You’re right as far as AAP is concerned. As of today, AAP holds no threat to any party because they are just starting. Yes, when they formed the government in Punjab, that initial wave came for AAP. A lot of people were joining them but they have stopped now because they don’t have a face to show. Who is the CM face, whom to trust, because today’s politics has become a presidential election in every state? People see who is leading the party.
Q: I have seen your son play in the IPL, one of your sons is also studying in the US and has also done his post-graduation from the London School of Economics. Do you find kids also joining you in your political journey?
A: Yes, my elder son Bhavya Bishnoi is very keen on joining and he has all the qualities that my father (late Bhajan Lal) had and I lacked. With his thought process and his working system, he’s completely like my father. People love him.
And my younger son Chaitanya played in the IPL. He was with Chennai Super Kings for two years. He doesn’t like politics at all, he’s a very reserved boy and a very good cricketer. My daughter just finished her graduation and she hates politics.
Q: So, your eldest son is at Harvard University…
A: Yeah, he’s doing his second masters from Harvard, he’ll probably be the most educated politician in the history of India.
He was head boy of the school, then he was heading the Pendulum Indian Community at the London School of Economics. He did his graduation there. He was a ‘blue blazer holder’ at Oxford University where he did his first Masters.
Now he is doing his second Masters at Harvard, where he won the election a few months back. So he has that blood of Chaudhary Bhajan Lal.
Q: You have also faced a fair share of controversies as well. The ED came after you in the past few years. What’s the truth in these investigations?
A: Nothing, I had a search happen in my investigation by the Income Tax department and it’s been three years they haven’t found anything. So, more or less my cases are finished.