A distance of 47 km and a state boundary are what separates Haryana’s Chautala village from Punjab’s Badal. Not that this short distance has ever mattered to first family of either village. Elections 2014 have only underlined what has almost become folklore in this area: that the Chautalas and the Badals are inseparable.
So with former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala’s conviction and jailing in a teachers’ recruitment scam preventing him from campaigning, it is the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, along with his son and deputy Sukhbir Badal, who has taken up the responsibility to campaign for Chautala’s INLD, though their Shiromani Akali Dal’s Punjab ally, the BJP, is contesting against the INLD in many seats in Haryana.
Badal, in fact, is said to have tried hard to get the BJP to ally with the INLD. When the latter declared candidates in all 10 Haryana seats, many thought this would test the Badal-Chautala ties. It clearly didn’t.
Sukhbir accompanied Chautala’s grandson Dushyant when the latter filed his nomination, then went on to campaign for the INLD. The senior Badal brought the INLD campaign to a close Tuesday with a rally in Hisar.
In Chautala village, in Sirsa constituency, the mood is sombre. “There is a lot of resentment,” says Madan Gopal, 80, a retired teacher. “He just gave jobs to people. How can that be a crime?” he says, playing cards with friends at Tau Devi Lal Park. The view finds a echo in others.
“We haven’t celebrated any festival, no Diwali, no Holi, since they were jailed,” says Shiv Prakash, a BA student who has to travel to Sangaria in Rajasthan to attend college. “Had this main road from Dabwali been built a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had to go to a college in Rajasthan,” he laments.
Chautala village boasts a hospital, senior secondary schools for boys and girls, an ITI, a couple of stadiums, its own waterworks and two banks. “There are no teachers in the school, no doctors and medicines in the hospital and no support staff in the ITI,” says sarpanch Atma Ram. “Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s government hasn’t been giving any funds. I have been demanding funds for road repair and clean water since I became sarpanch in 2010,” he says.
With around 10,700 votes, Chautala village is the INLD citadel. Many were surprised when the Congress’s Ashok Tanwar won Sirsa last time. “He was projected as Rahul Gandhi’s friend. People thought he would get lots of resources. He didn’t even come back,” says Rajender. “This time, the INLD will sweep the polls in the state,” he adds.
In Badal village, too, the Badals’ closeness to the Chautalas is a subject often discussed. “Badal sahib is busy campaigning for Chautala sahib right now. Once he’s free, he’ll focus here,” says Balkar Singh.
Badal’s daughter-in-law Harsimrat is locked in direct fight with former Punjab finance minister Manpreet Badal here. Manpreet, who floated his own party in the last assembly polls, is contesting on a Congress ticket this time to upstage Harsimrat.
An old stadium has just got a fresh facelift here, with a new building coming up alongside and floodlights installed.
Much like Chautala, Badal boasts five schools, two colleges and a nursing institute. It has its own civil hospital and a shooting range in addition to three banks, a telephone exchange and a power sub-station.