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Spectrum » Books

Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 1:24 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 1:24 AM (IST)

Haryana’s favourite Lals

Geetanjali Gayatri

Notorious for being the land of Aya Rams and Gaya Rams and Machiavellian politics, Haryana was once identified with the three Lals — Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal. Any attempt at understanding the state, its history and its journey from being Punjab’s poor cousin to its metamorphosis into a front-ranking state, weaves its way through the lives of these Lals, all of whom rose to become the Chief Minister of the state and brought their own touch to its development.

A bureaucrat enjoys the privilege of a ringside view as governments change hands and politicians play musical chairs. Ram Varma is that insider who was a witness to the, sometimes murky, behind-the-scenes games politicians play and to the ego-balancing tactics in the Lals’ governments in an attempt to keep their flock of legislators safe from “poachers”  at a time when defections were the name of the game. 

With his innings in Haryana spanning over three decades during which he served successive Lal governments in various capacities, sometime side-lined and other times under the spotlight, Varma provides an exhaustive account of his impressions of their persona, their personalities and their priorities. 

Through his personal experiences and anecdotal narration, he even pauses to laugh at himself at times and does not shy away from describing his astuteness to wriggle out of difficult situations.

Having worked closely with Bansi Lal and having served as his Principal Secretary, Varma’s fondness for Bansi Lal and his ways is pronounced as he narrates the story of three Lals.

He liberally glorifies Bansi Lal, referring to him as “Bansi Lal, the builder”, to the Delhi-Chandigarh road as the “Bansi Lal highway”, but he also gives a peek into the grit that shaped the man, quoting many such instances. 

One such story revolves around the holding of the Indian National Congress session in Faridabad in 1969 and the gutting of the pandal in a fire on the first evening, after the inauguration. Varma narrates how Bansi Lal stood right through the night to have to it re-erected by morning and was there to greet the delegates a few hours later. 

Varma gushes on about the man’s “restless energy, his go-getting nature” and visionary agenda of providing electricity to villages, laying a network of roads to connect villages, the rise of Haryana Tourism and the mushrooming of tourist resorts on highways. He concedes little in terms of his flaws.

Describing Devi Lal as having the “aura of a kingmaker” and a “leader of farmers”, Varma shares his first brief  encounter with him and the fall-out over the mutation he refused to approve.

Describing Bhajan Lal’s adeptness at manipulating situations to his advantage, the book mentions that he kept his MLAs happy by “allowing them a certain quota in government jobs”. Varma, however, could not adapt to the “’please-all’ permissive political morality” of the leader. 

While the virtues of Bansi Lal are discussed at length in the book, the other two Lals seem to play second fiddle to him, seem a shade or two duller and obviously don’t enjoy the place of pride the writer gives to the former. They could have done with more space and a tad more credit in the scripting of the Haryana story. Towards the end, it hurriedly rushes through the post-Lals era, depositing the reader to the present times to conclude the story. 

Varma’s ability to intersperse politics with light-hearted “home stories” of his wife and three daughters keep it from becoming a mere walk down history. 

An interesting read with events seamlessly stitched together, the book gives a detailed chronicalisation of events in Haryana in the backdrop of changing political permutations and combinations at the Centre —  a fascinating Haryana story told with a difference.

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