On Wednesday, I went to interview Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Abhay Chautala in Chandigarh. On the agenda was Haryana’s political landscape.
For clarity, since the Chautalas are a complex political clan, Abhay is one of the two sons of former CM Om Prakash Chautala, who is currently jailed for corruption. Abhay’s brother Ajay and his son Dushyant are estranged from the patriarch’s politics. Dushyant founded his own Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) in 2018, won 10 seats in a House of 90, and is now a coalition partner and Deputy CM in the BJP-led Haryana government.
The JJP voted in favour of the Manohar Lal Khattar government in the no-confidence motion in the assembly last week.
From the original party, there was only one MLA elected, Abhay Chautala. He resigned from the House in January, protesting against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws.
I reached his office at 7.30 pm, the designated time, as his team had informed me that he would be arriving from Delhi around this time. They asked me to reach on the dot.
My driver parked the car outside Chautala’s house. As I walked inside, the housekeepers showed me to the small office where Chautala was already present along with five associates.
I began the interview straightaway, with a question on the INLD’s position on the farmers’ agitation. He responded that INLD is in the hearts of the people.
Asked about the future of his estranged nephew Dushyant Chautala’s JJP, Chautala said the JJP is in an unpopular alliance.
He further emphasised that he has his ear to the ground, while the ruling JJP, the BJP and the opposition Congress are missing from public gatherings. He added that the JJP’s image has been damaged.
At this point, I posed my second question: Why did Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala part ways with him? And how did he perceive Dushyant’s current political moves?
He spoke at length about how Dushyant is as corrupt as his father Ajay Chautala, who “sold party tickets”. “The whole family is morally corrupt,” said Chautala. I interrupted to point out that both of them were a part of the same family.
At this point, his behaviour, which was merely sullen and unpleasant until then, suddenly got much worse.
Chautala had already referred to me dismissively as “tum patrakar (you journalists)” thrice. As I objected, finally, to say that he should not use this disrespectful tone, he asked his domestic help to bring a bowl for him to spit into.
Every time I asked questions about Dushyant, Chautala got angrier. To each of my questions, he had only two-three phrases to offer — “unpopular government”, “BJP agent”, etc, and all of it in crass, mostly unprintable language.
His tone kept worsening. He told me, contemptuously: “Tu patrakarita seekh (go learn journalism).”
Even after I objected to this behaviour, Chautala didn’t budge. His associates too kept watching silently as he continued to spit in the bowl in front of us.
Then Chautala made calls to farmer leader Rakesh Tikait as the latter had reached his Teja Kheda farm house after a protest in a bordering Rajasthan district.
Chautala then again dismissively used the term, “tum saare patrakar”. I asked him to not address me in an insulting manner.
I planned to leave after asking my last question: What about Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda? To this, he said, “He is a BJP agent.”
Do you have any proof for this allegation, I asked. Chautala loosely referred to an incident when Hooda allegedly didn’t sign a letter — a move that Chautala claimed turned out to be in favour of the BJP. He said this was how “BJP got a chance to send their member to the Rajya Sabha”. This was seemingly a reference to the Rajya Sabha election of Zee TV owner Subhash Chandra in 2016.
I asked him again, how would he establish Hooda as a BJP agent?
He replied, “Tu jaanti nahin ho ek Rajya Sabha member bill sign na kare to sarkar gir jaati hai. Bill wapis Lok Sabha mein jaata hai aur sarkar unpopular ho kar gir jaati hai. (You don’t know anything. If a Rajya Sabha member doesn’t sign a bill, governments fall. The bill gets returned to Lok Sabha and the government falls due to unpopularity.)”
I questioned his vague statement, asking for an instance when a Rajya Sabha member refused to sign a bill and the central government collapsed.
He lost his temper at this point and started shouting. “Tu nikal yahan se. Ho gaya interview. Bhaag yahan se. Bahut dekhe patrakar. (Get out from here. The interview is done. Get out. Have seen many journalists).”
I got up to leave and said: “You are misbehaving with a journalist whom you have given an appointment for an interview.”
He responded: “Haan, kar raha hun badtameezi. Report mein meri badtameezi ke baare mein bhi likh dena. (Yes I’m misbehaving. Go write about it in your report.)”
For me, still very new to the political beat at the age of 26, this was a true baptism by fire. In the course of time, I will surely grow a thick skin. But this isn’t an experience I want a repeat of any time again.
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