Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of Haryana’s former chief minister Bhajan Lal, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Thursday, before going over to party chief JP Nadda’s residence for a cup of tea and sandwiches. Interestingly, BJP leaders believe Bishnoi will be more helpful electorally in Rajasthan than in his state Haryana. In an exclusive interview with News18.com, Bishnoi opens up on Rahul Gandhi, his reasons for leaving the Congress and joining the BJP, as well as his plans for the future. Edited excerpts:
What prompted you to join BJP?
I was influenced by PM Narendra Modi’s policies. As I had been a Congress person throughout my life, I wanted to give myself another shot at being the Congress leader and wanted to mend things with Rahul Gandhi. It is no longer Indira and Sonia Gandhi’s Congress. They kept on repeating the mistakes, and this despite the fact that I kept warning them about the wrong set of people around him. I kept telling them that the wrong decisions are making Congress lose elections. The second reason to join the BJP was that I was in awe of Modiji’s policies and saw where India stands today globally. I have friends across the world. Out of three, two of my children study abroad and everyone praises the BJP.
Now, if I speak about the state leadership, I met chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar about work in my constituency. The tasks would have hurt BJP electorally, yet he obliged. He said that those works were for people of Haryana and hence the approval. I was very impressed. And during all of this, I had some tiffs with the congress leadership and this made my resolve to join BJP more firm.
Former Congress leaders have said that they did not get appointments from the Gandhis and neither were they heard. Did you face the same thing?
This is absolutely true. Jyotiraditya, RPN Singh, and others left the Congress because of this. I had openly said this in the media that if Rahul Gandhi won’t meet me, I will not give them my vote in the Rajya Sabha polls. I have my identity and my vote bank. I am answerable to them. I still waited and yet no one approached me despite my influence in Rajasthan and in Haryana. I am the patron of All India Bishnoi Mahasabha which accounts for 90 per cent of Bishnoi votes. If you don’t stop such people from leaving Congress, that amounts to arrogance or a thought process that is destroying the Congress.
What do you make of Congress leaders including Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi’s protests against inflation? They say there is no democracy left in the country.
Such protests have happened in the Congress regime as well and they too undertook the same measures to contain the protests. There were lathi charges, Arun Jaitley was put in prison. I believe they could do a peaceful protest rather than getting the clothes of their MPs torn.
Do you believe inflation was the real reason why Congress organised this protest?
I do not believe this. The Enforcement Directorate is the reason why they took to the streets. I believe that when Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were called by ED for questioning, they thought people would throng the streets. But nothing like that happened. Only office bearers and a few ticket aspirants were out protesting. But this would have hurt the cause and to gain people’s sympathy, they called it a protest against inflation.
What are you bringing electorally to BJP Haryana?
My family has a legacy. I have managed my party for eight years and have visited each village at least 2-3 times. In Haryana, Jat and non-Jat polarisation is an issue. And if non-Jats would accept me as their leader, I would be honoured. Had I been with the Congress, non-Jat votes would have split, but now that I have joined the BJP, the Congress has no non-Jat leader. Whereas the BJP will gain as the non-Jat votes will consolidate. I too have a Jat vote bank in areas like Bhiwani, Karnal, etc. We are the only family in the world who have fought from all the corners of the state, be it Faridabad-UP border, Bhiwani-Rajasthan border, Kalka-Himachal Pradesh border, Tohana-Punjab border, or Karnal that is in the centre of Haryana. I am an extremely hardworking man. There are 78 per cent non-Jat voters. We have significant Bishnois in Rajasthan: 37 assemblies and 7 Lok Sabha constituencies.
You spoke about family. You have a brother in Congress who also has political ambitions for his son like you have for yours. Do you think the family can witness a rift regarding this or is your brother too tilted towards the BJP?
My brother has decided to stay with Congress. My son is coming back from Harvard in three months. He is the most educated politician in India. My son will be a big asset to the BJP. Our family is united and we have strong bonding. No one will contest against each other.
Is JJP acceptable to you as an ally?
Whosoever is acceptable to BJP will be acceptable to me.
There is a thought that because you have cases against you regarding income, your shift to BJP was done to prevent any action.
If that is the case, then I should have made the switch three years ago when there were searches conducted at my places. We have an LOC (lookout circular) and it is not withdrawn yet despite investigations coming clean. I joined BJP because I got the feelers from the party; my friends and family put pressure on me to help the BJP. I will win the case legally. I will never ask anyone to help me out.
How will AAP perform because Congress has weakened in the state?
When AAP won Punjab, many from BJP, Congress, and other regional parties gravitated towards it. But now after witnessing what kind of administration they give and how CM (Bhagwant) Mann is remote-controlled by Delhi via (Raghav) Chadha, people became disillusioned. AAP has nothing to bring to the table. Arvind Kejriwal has done nothing for Haryana despite making claims that he belongs to the state. SYL (Satluj Yamuna Link) is a sensitive issue for both states and Kejriwal in Punjab said that he won’t give a drop of water to the state. He may do damage in some areas bordering Delhi and Punjab.
You were supposed to join BJP months ago. What was the delay?
I had been in Congress throughout my life. Even when we formed Congress (Bhajan Lal), we maintained that it was the original Congress. I made an ideological change. I had to rethink it several times. Rahul promised me the state chief post but that did not happen. I told him that if you are sending me out in war you need to give me ammunition. I always maintained that I was not greedy. I want to establish myself as an asset to the BJP now.
What is the problem with today’s Congress?
People have no faith in the leadership. Me, Jyoti, RPN, and Sachin (Pilot) were all Team Rahul. He did not stand by his team. Sachin should have had the post of CM and he made Gehlot CM. In MP, he did not give Jyotiraditya his due and made Kamal Nath CM. Jitin Prasada should have been made state chief of UP, the post was given to someone else and the same happened to me in Haryana. We were demoralised. Rahul could not stand by his people. I think he is ‘kaan ka kachcha’ (gullible) and could not take decisions like Indira Gandhi. A leader gives strength to his people. Those from grassroots who can do rallies and garner support were sidelined.
Politics is about perception, and today it is the perception that Congress cannot take on BJP. And Congress is Rahul and Rahul is Congress. He should have changed his ways and he is not willing to do it. Congress has no future courtesy of his advisors. You have been losing repeatedly and yet you do not understand.
Social media is crucial. Voters would want to know whether his leader knows his name or not. I try to mug up names before going to the village. My son has made an app where I have a database of my people. Plus, BJP too has changed. It has made Congress leaders ministers and CMs. BJP knew that I can damage them if given some power by Congress, so they approached me and took me in.