No Nehru Without Vajpayee: Madan Lal Khurana’s Tryst With India’s First PM
BJP leader and ex-Delhi CM Madan Lal Khurana, once called Dilli ka Sher, left this world without much ado.
File photo of Madan Lal Khurana with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. (Reuters)
It was a reflection of the changing times that when the carriage carrying the corpse of former Delhi chief minister Madan Lal Khurana arrived at the Delhi BJP office on Pandit Pant Marg, it went off as mostly a non-event. The sorrow on social media did not really converge on the streets of Delhi, where once Khurana ruled the roost.
In the heydays, Khurana was referred to as Dilli Ka Sher or the Lion of Delhi. He won Lok Sabha elections from south Delhi in 1989 and 1991, defeating Subhash Chopra and Romesh Bhandari, respectively, building the momentum for the assembly polls in the national capital in 1993 when it was provided the legislative body. During this period Khurana also played a substantial role in the success of the Rath Yatra that was led by LK Advani in 1992 during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. The assembly of the huge sea of supporters in 1992 welcoming Advani when he reached Delhi was credited to Khurana.
In Khurana, Congress strongman HKL Bhagat, another Punjabi refugee leader, had found a match. Delhi became the National Capital Territory in 1993. Elections for the state assembly followed with Khurana leading the BJP and Bhagat the Congress. ‘Dilli Ka Ek Hi Lal, Madan Lal, Madan Lal’ resonated in the air. The BJP scored a big victory, Khurana was sworn in as the chief minister in December 1993.
He had begun well, but before he could give shape to his ideas, he had to resign as his name cropped up in the Jain Hawala Diary case. The high command had promised to give the office back when he was cleared but that did not happen. This resulted in intense friction between Khurana and Sahib Singh. Delhi witnessed press conferences and counter press conferences in those days.
The high command tried to accommodate him at the Centre and he did not do very badly there. Khurana contested Lok Sabha elections from Sadar in 1998 and defeated Jagdish Tytler. He was picked by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take charge of the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry. His floor management skills had no match. He retained the Sadar seat in 1999. Khurana brought the Telugu Desam Party to the NDA fold in 1999 and offered the post of the Speaker to GMC Balayogi.
He was instrumental in forming the BJP-Akali Dal alliance in Punjab for the Assembly elections. The Sikhs in Delhi had always remained indebted to him for having come to their rescue when a pogrom against the community was let loose following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Because of the closeness that Khurana enjoyed with the Chautalas, the INLD offered its unconditional support to the NDA government in 1998. Khurana was also instrumental in bringing cine stars such as Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna into party fold.
But he could never reconcile to the fact that he was denied his office as Chief Minister of Delhi when he was cleared in the Jain Hawala diary case. The BJP, after being in the opposition in the Assembly from 1998 to 2003, was keen to come back to power, so it decided to contest the elections once again under Khurana’s leadership. He was also appointed as chairman of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.
It did not help the party. The BJP lost badly, ending any claims which Khurana may have had for Delhi. After the party’s defeat in 2003, Khurana was asked by the leadership to move to Rajasthan as Governor. Though he moved to Jaipur, he could not come to terms with his ouster from Delhi politics. He returned to Delhi, relinquishing the Governor’s post after 11 months. Back in the capital, he involved himself in opposing the sealing and demolition of shops and industries under the orders of the Delhi High Court. But the party was no more looking at him to lead in the polls.
Khurana failed to appreciate that along with the demography of Delhi, its politics too had changed. He was essentially seen as the leader of the Punjabi refugees in the city along with Kidar Nath Sahni and Vijay Kumar Malhotra.
Born at Lyallpur, now Faisalabad in Pakistan, on October 15, 1936, he landed at Lalitpur near Jhansi along with his family following the Partition. After finishing school, Khurana joined the Allahabad University. He rose to become the General Secretary of the Allahabad University Students Union and got associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
He showed first sparks there. He wanted to invite Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the union’s function but the authorities were keen to invite then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Khurana took a stand and said that if Atalji was not invited neither would Pandit Nehru. Ultimately, the authorities agreed to invite them both. Khurana visited Delhi to invite Nehru. The student leader was moved by the courtesy shown by Nehru as he came up to the porch to thank him for extending a personal invite.
Khurana is said to have learnt the essence of etiquettes and courtesy from Nehru. This was also reflected in his later days. Despite their political rivalry, Khurana and Sheila Dikshit maintained a very cordial relationship.
After Allahabad, Khurana studied at the Kirori Mal College in Delhi University for some time. This is where he learnt the basics of Indian politics and demographic and caste characteristics of a changing Delhi. He settled down at Paharganj in 1959, and from here he started his political journey by trying to strengthen the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, from which BJP took shape.
He, along with VK Malhotra and Kidar Nath Sahni, was deputed to manage the 1967 elections in Delhi; the elections to the MCD, Metropolitan Council and Lok Sabha were held simultaneously. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh secured an absolute majority in the MCD and Metropolitan Council and won six out of seven Lok Sabha seats from Delhi. The trio continued to manage the party and nurture it for many years in different capacities.
Sahni passed away some years ago, Khurana too is gone and Malhotra is in politically comatose state. No wonder the city and the BJP did not mourn much for one of its founding leader.
(The author is a senior journalist and political analyst. Views are personal)
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