A galaxy of Opposition leaders gathered in Haryana’s Fatehabad on Sunday (September 25), to mark the 109th birth anniversary of Chaudhary Devi Lal, former deputy prime minister and one of the tallest farmer leaders of the country. Devi Lal was also the founder of the party today known as Indian National Lok Dal (INLD).
Stalwarts including Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, and Lalu Prasad attended the event, vowing to give a united fight to the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, and recalling their association with Devi Lal.
While the birth anniversary celebration was used as a stage for an Opposition show of strength, how is Devi Lal’s party faring today, and how significant a role can it play in the polls? We explain.
Devi Lal constitutes INLD
Devi Lal, who was in the Congress until 1971, served twice as Haryana Chief Minister, in terms beginning 1977 (Janata Party) and 1987 (Lok Dal). He went on to become the deputy Prime Minister in 1989. Devi Lal had a large rural vote bank, a legacy his eldest son Om Prakash Chautala, who has been CM five times, inherited and tried to keep intact.
Devi Lal founded the Bharatiya Lok Dal in 1974 after being elected to the Haryana Assembly from Rori. While the INLD was founded in 1987, the 1982 and 1987 elections were fought under the name Lok Dal (LKD). The party got its current name in 1998. INLD remained a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from 1998 to 2004. Devi Lal passed away in 2001.
What is the political standing of Devi Lal’s family today?
Several members of the Chautala clan are active in politics, although they are split between INLD and Jannayak Janta Party (JJP).
Om Prakash Chautala’s elder son Ajay, a former MP from Bhiwani and three-time MLA (twice in Rajasthan and once in Haryana), was convicted along with his father on charges of corruption in the JBT teachers’ recruitment case. Both have now served their prison terms.
Ajay’s wife Naina is sitting MLA from Badhra. His elder son Dushyant is the deputy chief minister of Haryana, while younger son Digvijay is heading the youth wing of JJP.
Chautala’s other son Abhay is currently INLD’s only MLA in Haryana’s 90-member Vidhan Sabha. During the farmers’ agitation against the farm laws, he had resigned in show of support. This led to a bypoll in Ellenabad, in which he was re-elected.
Abhay’s wife Kanta contested the Zila Parishad polls in 2016, but lost. Abhay’s sons Karan and Arjun have started taking part in affairs of the party and are likely to contest in the upcoming 2024 polls.
Jagdish Singh was the only son of Devi Lal who never showed any interest in active politics. However, his sons have political ambitions. Ahead of the October 2014 Assembly polls, Jagdish’s sons Aditya and Anirudh had joined BJP, aspiring to contest Assembly polls. However, they were not given tickets. Aditya had also defeated Abhay’s wife Kanta in January 2016 in panchayat polls in Zone 4 of Sirsa.
INLD’s slide since 2005
The INLD ruled Haryana last in 2005, when it was pushed out by Indian National Congress and Bhupinder Singh Hooda became chief minister. Hooda served two terms till he was replaced by BJP’s Manohar Lal Khattar in 2014.
In the 2014 polls, INLD had pushed Congress to the third spot, winning 19 out of the 90 seats. At that time, Om Prakash Chautala and Ajay Chautala were in jail. Abhay Chautala was leading the party while Ajay’s son Dushyant was gaining immense popularity among the youth.
But before the party could contest the 2019 polls, the Chautala clan entered into an ugly feud, splitting the party.
The INLD’s best-ever performance in Lok Sabha polls was in 1999, when it was part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). INLD and BJP, in an alliance, had contested five seats each, winning all 10. Since then, INLD has been on a gradual slide in Lok Sabha polls.
What led to the split in INLD
In the run-up to 2019 polls, Dushyant Chautala had emerged as a popular contender for the CM face. Om Prakash Chautala, however, wanted Abhay Chautala for the post.
In October 2018, during the INLD’s rally in Gohana, party supporters raised slogans in favour of Dushyant and did not let Abhay Chautala address the gathering. A few days later, Om Prakash Chautala expelled Dushyant and Digvijay from the party. Their father Ajay and mother Naina, with some other prominent leaders, then quit the party, and in December 2018, the JJP was born.
Can JJP be part of the larger alliance INLD is trying to stitch?
Currently, JJP has 10 MLAs and is part of the coalition government with BJP. In Sunday’s rally, Om Prakash Chautala claimed that “a few who were misled and quit the party want to come back. We do not have any ill-feelings about them”.
This is being read as a hint that he is ready to accept son Ajay, daughter-in-law Naina, grandsons Dushyant and Digvijay and the others back in the INLD fold. However, the next move is the JJP’s.