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Lone general in the field

punjab Updated: Apr 02, 2014 08:44 IST
Hitender Rao

Sundays are usually leisurely for most. But not for poll campaigners, and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Singh Chautala, 49, is no exception. Though he is not contesting himself, the onerous task of spearheading the INLD’s election campaign in the absence of his father and party chief Om Prakash Chautala and elder brother Ajay Singh Chautala — both sentenced to 10 years’ jail in a teachers’ recruitment scam – has fallen on Abhay.

And he understands the gravity of the situation as he takes control — crisscrossing the length and breadth of Haryana in a chopper. The flying machine ensures that the Ellenabad legislator is able to canvass for 4-5 INLD candidates every day.

His poll tour for Sunday (March 30) includes Kurukshetra, Ambala, Gurgaon and Faridabad Lok Sabha constituencies. “We have so far covered 45 assembly segments in a short span,” says Kuldeep Singh, an aide.

The dining table at Ladwa MLA Sher Singh Badshami’s palatial house — from where Abhay Singh starts on Sunday morning — looks lush in food and thoughts.

The spread looks lipsmacking — green peas with grated paneer, spicy green onions marinated, dalia (cereals), milk, lots of butter and curd, fruits and crisp multigrain chappatis.

For Abhay, who sits down with party leaders for a quick morning bite, working out the poll programme of Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal seems high on priority as he dials the octogenarian.

“Sat Sri Akalji. Tussi sade layi thoda waqt nikalo (Please take out some time for us),” he requests the Shiromani Akali Dal patriarch, who is backing the Chauatalas’ INLD despite the SAD’s Punjab ally BJP being on the opposite side in Haryana.

After getting a yes from Badal for April 8, he tells his office incharge to coordinate: “See if he (Badal) would like to come by his own chopper. Otherwise, our chopper is also available.”

For Badal, “it will be Sirsa first, followed by Thanesar and then Jagadhri,” Abhay tells state INLD chief Ashok Arora. They discuss the details of the rallies, seeking advice from others on the table. Abhay tells Arora not to forget installing fans:

“I liked the way they neatly tied them on poles at the Uchana rally. Since the weather is getting hot, it would be a good idea to have fans for the crowd at the venue.”

The breakfast is over and he is ready to go. “(BJP’s PM candidate) Narendra Modi is also holding a rally in Thanesar. But ours will be bigger,” he says. Some youngsters are waiting outside to meet him. “Raj banao, thari mauj ho jayegi (Make us win, it will be great for you),” he tells them before getting on to his SUV.

Once in, he is ready for a question-answer session. So, is the responsibility of INLD solely on him? “That’s not entirely correct. Hamare pradhan (Arora) pe bhi hai (Our state chief Arora is there too). See, workers are out biggest strength.”

About the oddity of the SAD, a BJP ally, supporting INLD in Haryana, he says, “We have old family ties with the Badals.

How can one stop them from campaigning for us? One can have an understanding with a party in one state, not everywhere.” Arora chips in: “(SAD chief and Punjab deputy CM) Sukhbir Badal has already said the SAD has a permanent alliance with the INLD!”

The vehicle enters a university ground where a makeshift helipad has been made. He quickly boards the single-engine UTAir chopper. Ten minutes flat, the chopper lands at Barara in Ambala. MLA Rajbir Singh accompanies Abhay to the venue.

As he begins his address, party workers distribute copies of a letter written by INLD supremo OP Chautala. Taking a dig at the BJP, Abhay says, “The party that has put up for its tickets for sale is talking about forming the government... Look what they did to their own.

Pradeep Sangwan quit on being denied ticket. Capt Abhimanyu is unhappy. They even made IRS officer Sunita Duggal quit service after promising ticket from Sirsa, but then swapped Sirsa with Karnal (with Haryana Janhit Congress, HJC).”

“Chautala saab ne ek kaam apke zimme lagaya hai (OP Chautala has entrusted you with a task). Root out the Congress. It is the semifinals for assembly polls. And this poll will decide who will be the next chief minister,” he underscores the importance of the LS contest.

“We were the ones who were instrumental in crowning Atal-ji (BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee) as the PM. People who say that they (the BJP) do not care for the INLD support will queue up before you for help. But we will not take a decision without taking a nod from the people and workers,” he says.

He also attacks Congress MP Kumari Selja for “taking refuge” in the Rajya Sabha.

On the way back to the helipad, he restarts our conversation. What’s his take on Congressmen contesting on BJP ticket? “Politics of self-interest.” On former Congressman Venod Sharma praising Modi: “It shows his weakness. The BJP humiliated him.”

On Congress rebel Dharambir who joined BJP: “He even approached me seeking a Lok Sabha ticket from Bhiwani. But I refused as we wanted to field an Ahir candidate.”

Back to Thanesar in less than 10 minutes, he heads straight for the rally venue. A giant marigold garland awaits him. INLD workers from the Kumhar community soon join him on the dais with a pot filled with laddoos.