NEW DELHI, India, June 20, Reuter: Devi Lal, the local politician boss who humbled Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in State elections on Wednesday, was swom in today as Chief Minister of Haryana state.

The 73yearold politician, who collapsed exhausted on Thursday after his stunning victory, left his hospital bed in New Delhi to be sworn in by the State Governor S.M.H. Burney.

Cheering supporters milled around Haryana house as Lal was sworn in privately with a five man cabinet from his rural based Lok Dal (People’s Party) and the allied Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Indian People’s Party.

The allies swept Gandhi’s Congress (1) from power in Haryana in a vote seen as a major test of the Prime Minister’s popularity after a series of electoral setbacks in other States and political scandals that have tarnished his “Mr. Clean” image.

The landslide surprised observers. It was one of Congress’s worst losses in a state election in the Party’s history.

Congress slumped in Haryana’s 90 member State Assembly from 61 seats to five while the Lok Dal BJP allies swept all before them, surging to 73 seats.

Gandhi sent belated congratulations to Lal today and told Congress supporters he was sorry for the defeat.

But in a speech in the northern town of Simla, Gandhi expressed confidence that Congress would emerge revitalized and urged party workers to shun “Urban Politics” and identify with rural India.

Lal ran virtually a one-man campaign to lead his farm based Lok Dal (People’s Party) in a rout of Gandhi’s powerful Congress (1) Party on June 17, sweeping it from power in Haryana in one of India’s decisive electoral turnabouts.

It was welcome revenge for Lal, who was deprived of the Haryana Chief Minister ship by Gandhi’s mother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1982.

He was set to become Chief Minister after the last State elections. But after the vote, Mrs. Gandhi engineered mass defections by his electoral allies in the Assembly to give Congress. a majority and also the government.

A wealthy landlord known for his streetwise manner and mercurial temper, Lal spent the past two year campaigning across Haryan to win his revenge.

He emerged asa local hero early on by promising Haryana’s farmers that he would write off loans totaling 1.5 billion rupees (123 million dollars) if he became Chief Minister.

He also won national attention by focusing on the charges of corruption and arms deal payoffs that are plaguing Gandhi in Delhi.

His resounding Triumph raised opposition hopes across India of repeating the feat in National Parliamentary elections due in 30 months.

Haryana was Gandhi’s first electoral test in India’s northern Hindi speaking belt considered the bastion of the Congress Party. The defeat could be an indication of growing electoral disillusionment with the 42yearold Prime Minister.


Lal, 1.90 meters (6 feet, three inches) tall and weighing 100 kg (220 pounds) fought an earthy campaign to Gandhi’s more remote, intellectual approach on his fleeting incursions from the capital.

Lal coined a new campaign slogan: “One Vote, One Note’ and got both. At most elections rallies he was weighed in one rupee coins donated by supporters. He said he needed the money for his campaign. The votes came flooding in too.

He barnstormed the villages, stylishly beating the searing heat and dust storms of the north Indian plains in the comfort of an air-conditioned van fitted with bed and toilet.

A second van with a video player and 18 color televisions sets followed behind, showing villagers movies of his efforts for greater development in the State.

‘The display of technology in a State where farmers still use bullock carts was overwhelming.

Congress was thrown onto the defensive, its candidates trying to explain to uneducated villagers that Lal would not have the power to write off their bank loans.

He shrugged off the charge.

“On the 20th of June, I will become Chief Minister and I will ask officials how much money is owed by farmers. Then I will sign a piece of paper and it will be done”, he told election rallies.

Congress politicians, worried about a general election due within 30 months, are showering Gandhi with proposals for drastic changes to strengthen the party after the Haryana disaster, according to press reports.

The Hindustan Times said the Haryana vote showed “growing disenchantment of the voter with Congress (I) which if unchecked can play havoc with the Party’s prospects in the rest of the country”.

Proposals submitted by party members included summoning a meeting of the Congress National Committee to discuss the problems and appointing a veteran leader as Party President, a post Gandhi holds, to work fulltime for its reorganization.

Newspapers said Congress members also told Gandhi he should sweep aide his coterie of close advisers. some of them personal friends resented by the party old guard.

They also proposed the removal of a number of “discredited” Congress Chief Ministers who were damaging the party image in their States.

“There are signs of rumblings in the Party’s over the leadership’s continued inability to retrieve the organization from calamity”, India’s widest circulation newspaper the Indian Express said.

“Those who are critical of the Party’s functioning see a real danger in the repeated routs of the Party since Mrs. Gandhi became Prime Minister”.

Supporters told pointed jokes about Gandhi’s “foreign wife, foreign money and foreign bank accounts”.

Gandhi’s wife, Sonia, is Italian. Delhi has recently been reset by charges that unnamed officials have been salting away money in illegal Swiss bank accounts.

One joke by Lal supporters had a Haryana farmer travelling to Delhi to find Gandhi’s house heavily guarded by police and commandos.

Asked back home if he met Gandhi, the farmer replies: “No I could not. There were battalions outside and the Italian inside”.

Article extracted from this publication >>  June 26, 1987