Badal’s advice to feuding Chautalas is tad too late | Opinion
Considering the degree of bad blood between Om Prakash Chautala’s estranged sons and grandsons, it will be a miracle if they pay heed to Parkash Singh Badal’s advice and bury the hatchet.Updated: Aug 23, 2019 20:31 IST
The timing of the Punjab political patriarch’s plain-speaking counsel to his Haryana counterpart and long-time friend couldn’t have been more opportune.
When Akali stalwart Parkash Singh Badal, while paying homage to the deceased wife of Indian National Lok Dal supremo Om Prakash Chautala this week, implored him to bring about rapprochement in his feuding family, he had on his mind the forthcoming Haryana assembly elections and the rough patch that the Chautalas find themselves in. Badal’s impassioned plea drew a loud applause which, though strikingly odd at a solemn occasion, echoed the mood of the Jat clan’s supporters.
Considering the degree of bad blood between Chautala’s estranged sons and grandsons, it will be a miracle if they pay heed to Badal’s advice and bury the hatchet. And, if they don’t, they will be staring at another electoral rout that could well strike a mortal blow to Haryana’s one-time powerful political legacy of Chaudhary Devi Lal, the tallest leader in the Jat pantheon after the legendary Sir Chhotu Ram.
To be sure, the state’s longest-surviving Jat dynasty, torn asunder by a vertical family split, is facing its worst existential crisis since its inception in the 1980s.
To know how formidable a force Devi Lal once was, one has to revisit the 1987 assembly elections. That’s when he scripted the original Haryana hurricane epithet – later used for cricketer Kapil Dev – by winning 85 of the 90 assembly seats, an unrivalled feat in the state’s electoral history. The family’s high watermark in power politics came in the early ’90s when Lal rose to deputy prime minister, while his son and heir apparent Om Prakash Chautala ruled Haryana.
In 1998, Lal’s Lok Dal morphed into the INLD, which wrested power in 1999, the first in coalition with the BJP and, the next year, on its own for a five-year term until 2005. The party’s fortunes have since been on a downturn. It has lost three assembly slugfests consecutively and had a poor run in the Lok Sabha elections.
But, the biggest blow was the 2013 conviction of Chautala and his elder son Ajay in a teacher recruitment scandal, sending them to a 10-year imprisonment in Tihar jail. The sentence sounded a death knell for Chautala’s political career and that of his successor as it barred them from contesting elections. That put his younger son, Abhay, at the helm of the party, stoking an internecine family feud.
The simmer animus came to a head last year when Ajay and his ambitious sons, Dushyant and Digvijay, revolted against Chautala and floated a rival Jannayak Janta Party, staking claim on Chaudhary Devi Lal’s political mantle. The jury is still out on who will inherit the Lal legacy, and whatever is left of it. With the split began an unrelenting exodus from the INLD rank and file, a setback so debilitating that the party is now left with only three of its 19 MLAs, and has lost its status as principal opposition in the House.
In fact, the INLD meltdown has coincided with – and has been exacerbated by – the BJP’s emergence that has fundamentally reshaped Haryana’s political landscape which was long rooted in the Jat-dominant power calculus.
By welding its Hindutva-imbued nationalism with an equitable development, the saffron party’s five-year rule has not only consolidated the non-Jat matrix but also made big inroads into the Jat terrain, roughly 23% of the state’s electorate and a traditional INLD bastion. It is not without significance that the BJP, not the Congress or JJP, is the party of choice for those leaving the Chautala clan.
In a broader sense, erosion in mass base and moorings of the regional party represents the diminishing of caste-based identity politics, a trend so emphatically encapsulated in other states too in the summer Lok Sabha elections. Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar is not off the mark when he touts his party’s pivotal position as an evidence of the decimation of caste politics which was the INLD’s lifeblood.
CLUTCHING AT STRAWS
Not surprising, the INLD’s vote share in the Lok Sabha polls slumped to less than 2% as compared to almost 25% in the 2014 elections. Though the breakaway JJP fared slightly better with 4%, it has been clutching at straws by forging a pre-assembly poll tie-up with the Bahujan Samaj Party, another marginal player in Haryana.
With depleted and demoralised cadres and led by an uninspiring Abhay, the INLD is now pinning its survival strategy on Chautala’s premature release ahead of the assembly contest. Despite his faded charisma, the Jat chieftain still retains his organisational skills at 84. “Meri ragon mein Chaudhry Devi Lal ka khoon hai” has been his time-old rallying cry to arouse Jat supporters.
As the court will decide on his sentence remission plea in mid-September, the lion in winter may not even get a chance to campaign. If he gets the relief, he will hardly have much time to salvage his party in the elections due by mid-October.
Badal’s advice to his friend may have come too late in the day.