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Explained: How Haryana farm protests have put JJP chief Dushyant Chautala in a corner

Why is a leader who once rode a tractor to Parliament in a dramatic show of solidarity with farmers, today the target of their ire? And why are Dushyant and the JJP getting a bigger share of the criticism than the BJP in Haryana?

Written by Varinder Bhatia , Edited by Explained Desk | Updated: October 10, 2020 2:30:29 pm
dushyant chautala, farmer protests haryana, farm bills 2020, farmers protest, dushyant chautala farmers, Haryana news, express explainedAs a young MP, Dushyant Chautala grabbed eyeballs when he drove a tractor to Parliament in support of farmers on December 15, 2017. (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey. File)

Haryana’s young Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala and his Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) have been rather more in the line of fire of farmers and the Opposition over the contentious new farm Acts than the BJP, the bigger partner in the state’s ruling alliance.

On Tuesday (October 6), farmers from across Haryana gheraoed Dushyant’s residence in Sirsa demanding his resignation.

Why is a leader who once rode a tractor to Parliament in a dramatic show of solidarity with farmers, today the target of their ire? And why are Dushyant and the JJP getting a bigger share of the criticism than the BJP in Haryana?

What is Dushyant Chautala’s claim to be a leader of the farming community?

In December 2017, Dushyant, then the 29-year-old INLD MP from Hisar, drove a green-colour tractor to Parliament to protest certain changes in Rules under The Motor Vehicles Act, which he claimed were against the interests of farmers.

Dushyant argued that changing the status of tractor to merely vehicle from “agriculture vehicle” would mean tractors would become more expensive, and farmers would have to pay toll to use them on highways.

dushyant chautala, farmer protests haryana, farm bills 2020, farmers protest, dushyant chautala farmers, indian express Dushyant Chautala drives a tractor to Parliament in support of farmers on December 15, 2017. Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey, File)

Dushyant’s action, and the manner in which he raised the issues of farmers in Lok Sabha, brought him a lot of goodwill and following among rural voters in Haryana.

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So what has changed in less than three years, that the farmers of Haryana are now seeking his resignation?

Dushyant and the JJP are offshoots of Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). The original party, which carried the legacy of Chaudhary Devi Lal, had a large votebank in Haryana’s rural population. This votebank was split after Chautala’s sons Ajay and Abhay decided to go their separate ways politically.

Led by their father Ajay, Dushyant and his younger brother Digvijay formed a new political outfit, the JJP, in January 2019 – about 10 months before Haryana went to Assembly elections.

From the beginning, Dushyant and his party proclaimed repeatedly that farmers and the youth would be their top priority, and sought votes from the Chautala clan’s traditional rural votebank in the name of Devi Lal, who had been one of India’s tallest farmer leaders.

However, when the Centre passed the three farm Ordinances and subsequently moved to bring the Bills that were seen as being anti-farmer, Dushyant, after initially remaining silent, defended the proposed legislation. This angered farmers who had expected the Deputy Chief Minister to protest the BJP’s decision, and to perhaps even leave the government and join the protests.

And why is the Opposition targeting Dushyant?

The 2019 Haryana elections produced a hung Assembly; the BJP won 40 seats and the Congress 31, and neither party was in a position to form the government on its own in the 90-member House.

dushyant chautala, farmer protests haryana, farm bills 2020, farmers protest, dushyant chautala farmers, indian express Farmers protest near Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s residence in Sirsa on October 6 (Express Photo: Manoj Dhaka)

In this situation, the JJP with its 10 seats, emerged as the kingmaker. Bargains happened, and Dushyant got the post of Deputy CM, while one of his MLAs, Anoop Dhanak, was inducted as Minister of State in Manohar Lal Khattar’s BJP-JJP alliance government.

But things did not proceed smoothly between the allies. At least two JJP MLAs, Ramkumar Gautam and Devender Babli, both of whom used to be Dushyant’s confidants, have opened fronts against the Deputy CM, and a few others could follow. Some of Dushyant’s MLAs are being eyed by the Congress and INLD.

An independent MLA, Balraj Kundu, who had withdrawn support to the government after accusing the BJP-JJP of shielding the corrupt, has backed the farmers. Kundu led the farmers’ gherao of Dushyant’s residence on Tuesday.

Interview: Haryana BKU Chief | ‘Dushyant Chautala should snap ties with ally BJP’

As the farmers’ protest continues and anger increases in the villages, the opposition Congress smells an opportunity to destabilise the coalition government. Sources in the Congress claimed that at least five BJP MLAs are in touch with the Congress leadership.

“They (the BJP rebels) are waiting for Baroda (Assembly) bypoll to conclude (on November 3). Of course, the Congress is going to retain the seat. Once the verdict is out, the BJP’s days in Haryana will be numbered”, a senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.

For the Opposition, Dushyant and the JJP are a soft target in the ongoing farmers’ protest, much more than the BJP.

Also in Explained | Why it’s an underestimate to say only 6% farmers benefit from MSP

But why did BJP fail to see the problems coming?

For all its claims about doubling farmers’ income, ensuring the continuation of the minimum support price (MSP), disbursing the highest-ever compensation for crop loss, etc., the BJP has failed to pacify farmers. At no stage were BJP leaders in Haryana able to convey to farmers the advantages that the farm Bills – subsequently laws – would bring them.

State BJP president Om Prakash Dhankar conceded that “the manner in which awareness should have been created about the Bills or the legislation, could not be done”. This happened even though Chief Minister Khattar had told a press conference ahead of the tabling of the Bills in Parliament that the “Opposition will try to mislead the farmers, but they should not let anybody mislead them, and should trust the government”.

What lies ahead for Dushyant?

Dushyant’s situation is difficult because he represents the Jat community, and has based his entire political campaign on standing up for the cause of farmers. Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in Haryana are very far away, but political observers feel Haryanvis do nurse grudges for fairly long.

Several Jat leaders of the BJP faced the wrath of their community in the 2019 Assembly polls, when Jats voted against them.

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