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The clan conundrum: An ugly, and public, feud within the family has left INLD floundering

The biggest strength, and the weakness, of the INLD is the family that runs it. An ugly, and public, feud within the family leading to a vertical split has left the party floundering

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Chandigarh | Updated: April 21, 2019 8:17:51 am
Lok Sabha Elections 2019, INLD, Om Prakash Chautala, INLD Chautala family, election news, Haryana lok sabha elections, During better days: INLD founder Chaudhary Devi Lal (right), his son and current party president Om Prakash Chautala (left) and latter’s son Abhay.

The biggest strength, and the weakness, of the INLD is the family that runs it. An ugly, and public, feud within the family leading to a vertical split has left the party floundering, writes Varinder Bhatia

Till just a few weeks ago, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) was the main opposition party in Haryana. However, following a split within the party chief Om Prakash Chautala’s clan, one after another four MLAs parted ways resulting in party secretary general Abhay Singh Chautala losing the post of Leader of Opposition.

Since 2014 assembly elections, when the INLD had pushed then ruling Congress in the state to a third spot, winning 19 out of the 90 seats, much has changed. Two of its lawmakers died and four deserted the party, joining hands with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), a party that is the byproduct of the split in the Chautala clan.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019, INLD, Om Prakash Chautala, INLD Chautala family, election news, Haryana lok sabha elections,

The party was founded by Chaudhary Devi Lal, a farmer and freedom fighter. Devi Lal, who was in the Congress until 1971, served twice as Haryana Chief Minister, 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 votebank, a legacy that his eldest son Om Prakash Chautala, who has been CM thrice, inherited and tried to keep intact.

Now, with Chautala and his elder son Ajay serving a 10-year jail term for involvement in the JBT teacher recruitment scam, the party is struggling to find its feet in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls scheduled for May 12 in Haryana.

The INLD was once considered a photocopy of neighbouring Punjab’s Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab. Both the parties are led by two powerful families – INLD by Chautalas who come from the Chautala village in Haryana’s Sirsa and the SAD by the Badals who hail from Badal village in Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib district. Both parties also heavily bank on the rural votes.

Read | Chautala Family — a perfect example of dynasty politics

Known to take up the cause of farmers and the Jat community – a 27 per cent vote share in Haryana’s demography – INLD had had its highs and lows in the last four decades.

The recent split within the family, creation of separate political outfit – Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) – by Chautala’s elder son Ajay, political parties shying away from allying with the INLD and even traditional allies parting ways is definitely going to dampen party’s prospects in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

INLD’s state president Ashok Arora admits as much. “Definitely, when the party gets divided, it has an adverse impact. It happens in politics”.

Arora also accepts that political parties have shied away from allying with the INLD. “I admit that there is a challenge in front of us. But we trust our party workers and are going ahead with their strength. Due to our party workers’ strength, we are capable of accepting and beating such challenges. We shall contest with full strength and emerge victorious”.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019, INLD, Om Prakash Chautala, INLD Chautala family, election news, Haryana lok sabha elections,

The party has announced nine of the 10 Lok Sabha candidates in Haryana that goes to polls in the sixth phase on May 12. Of these, eight are debutants. The ninth is the lone party MP, Charanjeet Singh Rori, who has been renominated from Sirsa. The party is yet to name a candidate for Gurgaon parliamentary constituency.

As it prepares for the future, a look at the past shows that the INLD’s best ever performance in Lok Sabha polls was in 1999 when it was part of 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 the Lok Sabha polls. However, they continued to be in the reckoning in Assembly polls – Chautala remained chief minister from 1999-2005. INLD has not been able to come to power in the state in the last 15 years.

The party’s performance in 2005 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls remained extremely dismal as it failed to secure even a single seat. It was only in 2014 Lok Sabha polls that it managed to secure two of the 10 seats with Chautala’s grandson and Ajay’s elder son Dushyant winning from Hisar and Charanjit Singh Rori bagging the Sirsa parliamentary seat.

In 2014 assembly polls, INLD secured a vote share of 24.4 per cent, up from 15.78 per cent in 2009. The performance in Lok Sabha polls, however, was not that impressive.

“This is not the first time. In 1984, we lost all 10 seats. Then in 1991 and 1996, too, we lost all 10 seats. But in 1999, we won all 10 seats in alliance with BJP. It happens all the time in politics,” adds Arora.

It doesn’t look good for the party in the upcoming polls. INLD has witnessed a vertical split as a result of which, party’s hardcore vote bank is also likely to split.

Dushyant, one of the fourth generation member of the Chautala clan, was, at the age of 26, the youngest MP to be elected in 2014 polls. Abhay has nominated his younger son Arjun, also 26, is the INLD candidate from Kurukshetra. His other son, Karan, is yet to make a debut in state politics.

Ajay’s younger son Digvijay, who contested the recent Jind bypoll but lost to INLD turncoat Krishan Midha, who contested as BJP candidate, is immensely popular among youth cadre of the party while Ajay’s wife Naina is an MLA from Dabwali constituency. Ajay, too had remained a Member of Parliament from Bhiwani from 1999 till 2004.

Ironically, both the INLD and the JJP are trying to attract the electorate in the name of Devi Lal, even as they continue attacking each other without directly naming anybody.

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Aditya Devi Lal, Abhay and Ajay’s cousin, says, “Actually, INLD is no more the party that Devi Lal had conceptualised. The main reason for INLD’s downfall is that both Abhay and Ajay never followed Devi Lal’s ideology. They remember Devi Lal ji, only when election comes and seek votes in his name. Their father remained three term chief minister of Haryana. Why don’t they seek votes in his name?” 

Aditya, is son of Jagdish Singh, the third son of Devi Lal.

“Chaudhary Devi Lal was the first one in Hisar to donate his land during peasantry movement. Has Abhay or Ajay or their children ever done anything like that,” asks Aditya.

Fresh start for JJP

The JJP has entered into an alliance with the Aam Admi Party. The JJP is contesting seven seats and the AAP three. Since it is a new party, political analysts say whatever the party gets, it is going to be considered a gain.

On the other hand, INLD appears struggling. Desperate to enter into an alliance with ruling BJP, INLD knocked at Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s doors. However, BJP refused. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party that had entered into an alliance with INLD also parted ways soon after latter’s debacle in Jind bypoll. INLD candidate had to forfeit his deposit, having secured less than 3500 votes. INLD’s traditional ally SAD too recently announced its alliance with BJP in Haryana.

With one setback after another, INLD suffered another blow when its efforts to get Chautala out of jail on parole failed too. On the other hand, Ajay is out on parole and shall be campaigning for the JJP-AAP alliance across Haryana.

Party insiders say that although the feud within the family was simmering for long but it reached the peak at a wrong time, when the elections were barely a few months away.

“I can not comment what happened earlier, but after October 7, 2018, when we were thrown out of INLD, we created a new organisation. Now whatever happens to the INLD, is their fate,” says Dushyant.

On allies distancing them from INLD, Dushyant adds, “I was shocked to learn that SAD too disassociated itself from INLD. It clearly shows that the party’s current leadership is not acceptable to people”.

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