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Water war: Pushed to the margins, INLD falls back on SYL to stay relevant

Barricaded roads, brick-walled bridges, drones in the air and phalanxes of Punjab Police and paramilitary personnel to guard the state’s border.

analysis Updated: Feb 23, 2017 12:32 IST
Navneet Sharma
Navneet Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
INLD,SYL Canal,Water dispute
With INLD supremo Om Prakash Chautala in jail, party cadres are in disarray. (HT Photo)

Barricaded roads, brick-walled bridges, drones in the air and phalanxes of Punjab Police and paramilitary personnel to guard the state’s border.

All of these are precautionary measures taken by the Punjab government to stop supporters of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) from carrying out their threat of digging up the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal — a part of which was filled up by local farmers last year — in Patiala on Thursday.

While the re-digging plan will not alter the status of the contentious canal on the ground in any way, the call is a political ploy of the INLD to stay relevant. The strategy has already alarmed the authorities in Punjab and Haryana and brought the SYL canal and the party, which has been mobilising support for the show of strength, to the centre stage.

The extent of response of party supporters to the call will be known only on February 23. However, its rivals, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have dubbed the exercise a “political gimmick” with one BJP leader calling it a drama being staged by the INLD leaders just to get “photographed and make headlines”.

The party has been in dire straits due to dips and dives in its fortunes in the past one decade. A string of losses in six straight assembly and parliamentary elections and the crisis of leadership with two of its top leaders, former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and former MP Ajay Singh Chautala, in jail in a recruitment scam, have left the cadres in disarray.

In recent months, the Jat agenda – a community in which it has traditional pockets of strong support – in the state is also being set by the All India Jat Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS) chief Yashpal Malik. The UP realtor-turned-caste warrior, spearheading the 25-day-long stir for quota for Jats in government jobs and educational institutions, has emerged as the rallying point for the community, upstaging the local leaders for now.

Professor Ranbir Sigh, former dean, social sciences, Kurukshetra University, says there is a paradox in the party, as its cadre is intact, but it faces a leadership crisis. “The INLD needs to get its act together. The river waters issue has presented it with an opportunity. And there is a historical context. When his support base was dwindling, Devi Lal used the Punjab accord to raise the issue of injustice with Haryana and bounced back in 1987,” he says.

Being a state player, the INLD has more wiggle room than its two rivals and hopes to galvanise its cadres. Both the BJP and Congress have stakes at the national level and in Punjab. They have their limitations and contradictions in their stance from time to time as a result.

First Published: Feb 23, 2017 12:30 IST