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Dushyant Chautala, Tau Devi Lal’s ‘true heir’ and the ‘prince who fooled farmers’

Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala has backed ally BJP on farm laws, despite his agrarian Jat vote base. Farmers say he misled them by claiming Devi Lal’s legacy, but he says he’ll ensure they benefit.

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Sirsa/Jind/Chandigarh: On 3 March, Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala made a surprise phone call to one of his former tutors in Sirsa, Indraj Singh. The 92-year-old Singh was thrilled to hear his pupil’s voice.

“I taught him English and general knowledge. I was fond of him. One day I asked him, bada hokar kya banega? He had innocently said, ‘Bade Dadaji (great-grandfather) kehte hain neta banega’,” he recalled.

The 32-year-old Dushyant has a different recollection of when his destiny changed tracks towards politics.

“I clearly remember that moment. My father was arrested on 16 January 2013 in a JBT scam. He and my grandfather were sentenced to 10-year imprisonment on 22 January. I was supposed to go to England for my higher education the next day; to enrol in a global management course. But I am glad that I did not go as planned, and I landed up in this space. There’s been no looking back,” he told ThePrint.

The ‘Bade Dadaji’ who supposedly predicted Dushyant would have a future in politics was Devi Lal, former deputy prime minister of India and the man known to his entire state, Haryana, simply as ‘Tau’, father’s older brother. The grandfather is Om Prakash Chautala, the former chief minister of Haryana, jailed for corruption. The father is Ajay Singh Chautala, former Lok Sabha MP who was convicted with his dad for corruption.

To his tutor, Dushyant was the “perfect student”. To Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar of the BJP, he and his Jannayak Janta Party are essential allies. However, to farmers sitting in protest just 200 metres away from the family’s Sirsa residence, Dushyant is a shrewd politician who “fooled” them by using Devi Lal’s name.

On his part, Dushyant has stayed quiet and backed his partner on the contentious farm laws, despite his largely agrarian Jat voter base. The BJP-JJP government has also brought in two controversial pieces of legislation of its own — a 75 per cent quota bill, a poll promise of the JJP which reserves three-fourths of private sector jobs for Haryana residents; and a ‘protestors to pay’ bill, which allows the government to recover compensation from protesting farmers for any damage to property. This has increased the heat on Dushyant and the JJP.

ThePrint travelled to state capital Chandigarh, Dushyant’s constituency Uchana Kalan, his home town Sirsa, and the ancestral village of the Chautalas to look how his political career is shaping up in light of the farmers’ agitation on the outskirts of Delhi and large swathes of his state.


Also read: ‘Farmers’ party’ JJP under pressure to pull out of BJP-led govt, Dushyant Chautala faces heat


‘Aware of the backlash’

Despite his young age, anyone thinking Dushyant is a political greenhorn would be naïve. He contested the Lok Sabha elections on behalf of his grandfather O.P. Chautala’s party Indian National Lok Dal and become the youngest MP at 26 in 2014. Now, he’s not just deputy CM, but holds 11 more key portfolios, including revenue, excise and industries.

“I stepped inside the Haryana secretariat for the first time after I became the deputy chief minister. I had been to the Haryana assembly only twice,” said Dushyant.

Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala at work, with a portrait of his great-grandfather Devi Lal behind him | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Haryana Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala at work, with a portrait of his great-grandfather Devi Lal behind him | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

When ThePrint visited his official residence in Chandigarh on the last day of the Haryana assembly session on 17 March, around a hundred people had gathered outside, having travelled from different parts of the state to get their grievances addressed. The deputy CM directed his team to forward their requests to the officers concerned, while JJP MLAs waited for him in the hall. A young man followed him, tasked with taking pictures for better social media engagement.

A party insider told ThePrint: “He started meeting people in July. This became the pattern until the farmers’ agitation started in Haryana. Earlier, the number (of visitors with grievances) was in the thousands.”

The 75 per cent quota bill and the ‘protestors to pay’ bill led to a further backlash, leading to Dushyant going silent and cancelling any plans for political gatherings.

Dushyant said he was aware of the backlash from his core voters. “We are not holding any political events as we are aware of the situation on the ground. I do not want confrontation or to use the police force. But I have been attending weddings and funerals. It means I am still among the people,” he said.

The Chautala House in Sirsa, where Dushyant spent his childhood before going abroad for higher education, remains barricaded amid this backlash. A few policemen along with vans guard the palatial residence.


Also read: Haryana local job quota to make industry efficient, curb labour absenteeism: Dushyant Chautala


Splintered Chautala clan

The Chautalas take their name from Chautala village, 80 kilometres from Sirsa city. Patriarch Devi Lal brought his massive following among the dominant Jats to the fore in Haryana politics, but now, the clan has split up into many groups.

Dushyant’s JJP, which is headed by dad Ajay, is the most significant splinter group in this era, while Ajay’s younger brother Abhay Singh Chautala heads the old INLD. Aditya Chautala, son of Devi Lal’s second son Jagdish, is Sirsa district president of the BJP, while the former PM’s third son, Ranjit Singh, is an Independent MLA.

A hoarding questioning Dushyant Chautala and his great-uncle, independent MLA Ranjit Singh | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
A hoarding questioning Dushyant Chautala and his great-uncle, Independent MLA Ranjit Singh | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

Dushyant broke away to form the JJP in 2018. At the time of the split, Ajay Chautala’s branch of the family was residing at Chautala House in Sirsa and retained its possession, while the Abhay and O.P. Chautala branches of the family kept the farmhouse at Teja Kheda.

Dushyant has claimed since his grandfather sided with his uncle, he was left with fewer resources to contest the JJP’s first election, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, in which the party fought on seven of Haryana’s ten seats, losing all. But in that same election, Dushyant had declared assets worth Rs 77 crore.

In that first election for the JJP, Dushyant’s dad Ajay was still in jail, so mother Naina — the first woman in the family to come out and join politics — filled the vacuum, providing moral support to him, a party source said.

Naina started mobilising women voters and repeatedly launched barbs at her brother-in-law Abhay Chautala in public statements, calling him a ‘goonda’. In the assembly polls that followed in 2019, she won on a JJP ticket from Badhra seat, and her official MLA flat is now being used as the party’s office.

‘BJP tricked Dushyant’

The Chautala clan had not tasted power in Haryana for 15 years before the JJP’s 10 seats in the 2019 assembly polls brought them right back to the centre-stage as the BJP agreed to an alliance to retain power after finishing short of a majority. But now, Abhay Chautala, INLD’s lone MLA, has resigned in protest of the farm laws, while Dushyant firmly remains in the deputy CM’s chair.

Uncle Abhay dismissed Dushyant’s newfound political clout. The INLD chief told ThePrint: “He was nobody. I gave him a ticket and sent him to Parliament. He did not even know the ABCD of politics. There, he was tricked into launching a different front by the BJP MPs. Everyone put it in his head that when he speaks, they’re reminded of Tau Devi Lal.”

He added: “In Parliament, he hung out with BJP MPs and was told that INLD is not coming to power, so he should split the party and join the BJP in the power. Now, in one and a half years, the alliance has become so unpopular that he cannot even enter a village. Those who have gone to the JJP will come back to INLD.”

However, Dushyant responded: “I don’t consider him a serious politician. I decided to part ways with them the day they decided to start disrespecting my father.”


Also read: Why Dushyant Chautala will stick with BJP rather than appease Jat farmers, his core vote bank 


A different Chautala

A civil servant who has worked with Dushyant said on the condition of anonymity: “He is a fast learner. Usually, newly elected ministers take years to understand the bureaucratic practices, but he has picked things up really fast.”

A JJP insider said Dushyant had made sure his working style could not be equated with the last high-ranking government member of the family, former CM O.P. Chautala, who had been disowned by Devi Lal in 1978 when he was detained for trying to smuggle wrist watches worth Rs 1 lakh.

“Dushyant remains calm while speaking. He comes across as a modern individual on social media for the younger generation, but behaves conventionally in the constituencies,” the insider said.

A second member of the Chautala family commented: “He has worked on himself and does not come across as akkhad (brusque) politician, a trait which has played a major role in the decline of our family’s politics.”

Dushyant studied at Lawrence School, Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh, and also holds degrees in mass communication from Guru Jambheshwar University Hisar, and an LLM (Professional) from the National Law University, Delhi. He also has a business administration degree from California State University. He now plans to pursue a PhD in media and law. “I have applied to two universities,” he said.

Heat on Devi Lal’s legatee

Things have changed for the family and the party since the farmer protests began. Naina Chautala no longer holds political meetings and remains confined to the Sirsa house, with Dushyant and his brother Digvijay paying monthly visits.

A member of the house staff who didn’t wish to be named told ThePrint: “Since the first protest in Haryana started just 200 metres away from here, the sons’ visits have reduced in number.”

The farmers protesting 200 metres away, under the banner of Pakka Morcha Sirsa, claim that Dushyant makes secret visits to the house. The moodhas (traditional wicker chairs), where constituents once stood to meet the political leaders, stand vacant in the verandah.

Farmers protesting near Chautala House in Sirsa | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint
Farmers protesting near Chautala House in Sirsa | Photo: Jyoti Yadav | ThePrint

The staff member added: “A few people come here with their individual problems. A large gathering is not allowed.”

All this is indicative that Jat voters are angrier with Dushyant than with the BJP, whose central government has passed the farm laws in Parliament and leads the Haryana government that has passed the other two controversial legislations mentioned above.

Bhoora Singh, a 64-year-old from Rania in Sirsa district, calls Dushyant a ‘sahabzada’ (prince). “He fooled us by projecting himself as Devi Lal’s great-grandson and true heir. But does he know that Devi Lal would have met us the very same day if he got to know that we were protesting?” Singh said.

“He visits Sirsa secretly, and if we try to meet him, he uses the police force. This shows his arrogance. He simply had to resign from his post; we would have voted for him in large numbers in the next assembly elections,” Bhoora Singh claimed.

A member of the Chautala clan who did not wish to be identified remarked: “He surely used Devi Lal ji‘s his name to boost his image — be it riding a tractor to Parliament or in his public speeches.”

Dushyant denied he had ever claimed to be Devi Lal’s rightful heir, or ‘asli vaaris’. “I always maintained that I am guided by his ideology. And I will ensure that farmers of the state benefit from these farm laws,” he said.

But even in his own constituency Uchana Kalan, he’s facing criticism. Ajay, from Karsindhu village, accused Dushyant of playing with the youth’s sentiments. “Why doesn’t he give jobs in the government? We do not want private jobs,” he said.

To which Dushyant responded: “Article 16 of the Constitution does not allow us to give this quota in government jobs.”

His critics have accused the JJP of being the BJP’s ‘B team’. But he said: “I will take it as a compliment. It means our working style matches the BJP’s. We work closely to give fair governance.”

Other than the farmers’ agitation, Dushyant is also facing accusations of involvement in a liquor scam. Abhay Chautala called a press conference last year and accused many officers of Dushyant’s excise department of being involved in the smuggling of liquor, and demanded a CBI probe.

But Dushyant responded: “Despite Covid, we have generated Rs 6,400 crore in revenue. My target is to add Rs 1,100-1,500 crore in additional revenue this year. Since the day I have taken charge, there has not been a single rupee of corruption.”

Comparisons to another dynast

Dushyant is facing heat from Deepender Hooda, Congress Rajya Sabha MP and scion of another big Jat political dynasty currently headed by former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Deepender’s parliamentary speeches on the farm bills have gained much traction, especially on social media.

Now, there is interest in which of these dynasts will win over the Jats, but Dushyant laughed off the comparisons.

Khaaj aur raaj, khud kare hi mazaa aata hai (scratching an itch and being in power are best when done by one’s own hand,” he said.

“The senior Hooda is the leader of the opposition and I am the deputy CM. If at all there is a comparison, it should be between me and the senior Hooda. We will see the day Deepender is made the party chief; till then, it is a false comparison.”

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)


Also read: Dushyant Chautala has shown what it takes to be a Deputy CM. Is Sachin Pilot watching?


 

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