Jind: The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) is about to face a litmus test in the Ellenabad bypoll in Haryana later this month as it seeks to find political relevance after near-obliteration in the last assembly elections.
The party has fielded three-time MLA and senior leader Abhay Singh Chautala, whose resignation from the seat in January this year over farm protests necessitated the bypoll.
According to Chautala’s son, Karan, his resignation was symbolic and was a message to people that INLD would stand up for them when they are “wronged”. He claimed that Chautala now has the blessings of people to fight for the seat again.
Chautala’s estranged nephew Dushyant, Haryana deputy chief minister who leads the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), has decided against fielding the party’s own candidate. The JJP will name a joint candidate with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to BJP sources, the parties are likely to put up Gobind Kanda, brother of Haryana Lokhit Party chief and MLA Gopal Kanda, against Chautala. Gobind joined the BJP last week.
The Congress hasn’t named a candidate yet.
The Ellenabad bypoll will be held on 30 October and the counting of votes will take place on 2 November.
Struggle for relevance
Since 1996, when former deputy prime minister and farmer leader Chaudhary Devi Lal founded it (as Haryana Lok Dal), the INLD has served in the state politics in various capacities. It was the main opposition party in 2009.
But after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to lead the BJP in 2014, the INLD has struggled for its political relevance in Haryana.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the party’s vote share was 24.1 per cent and its total seats were 19. This plunged to 2.4 per cent and 1, respectively, in 2019 assembly elections after Dushyant Chautala vertically split the party to form the JJP.
This was INLD’s worst performance in electoral politics. Only Abhay Singh Chautala could retain the Ellenabad assembly seat. Most other INLD candidates lost their deposits.
Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the INLD allied with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and contested on three seats, but failed to win any.
With the upcoming polls on its home turf, the party is trying to gain its lost ground.
“This election will definitely give an edge to the INLD. The BJP does not even have a candidate for this. They have to bring Gobind Kanda. The BJP lost the Baroda bypolls too. So far, the party was saying that there is no resentment on the ground, but now its candidate will be confronted,” said a member of the Devi Lal family, which leads the INLD.
Chautala is the grandson of Devi Lal. His father and five-time CM Om Prakash Chautala is the party chairperson.
“Dushyant has already lost the moral ground. He is not even trying in Devi Lal’s turf, while he claims his legacy,” said the family member quoted above.
‘Resignation was symbolic’
In January, months after INLD was reduced to a single-MLA party in the Haryana assembly, Abhay Singh Chautala resigned in support of farmers who were protesting against the three farm laws that the Modi government introduced last year.
Speaking to ThePrint, Karan Chautala defended his father’s decision to contest now, months after quitting. He referred to an incident involving his great-grandfather in the 1980s, when Devi Lal resigned as an MLA in a “symbolic” move.
“The opposition is asking why did my father resign from the assembly if he had to contest from the same seat again? In the 1980s, Devi Lal resigned from the Meham seat when the governor called upon Bhajan Lal and sworn him as the chief minister despite Devi Lal having the majority. Later, he contested from the same seat again and won. The resignation was symbolic,” said Karan.
“Abhay Singh Chautala’s fight is symbolic too. His resignation was for nyay yudh (fight for justice). It is a message to the people that when they are wronged, INLD is going to stand up for them. Our Jind rally was proof that our cadre will be back with us,” he said.
INLD held a rally in Jind on 25 September under the banner of ‘Samman Diwas Samaroh’. It celebrated Devi Lal’s 108th birth anniversary. It was led by family patriarch Om Prakash Chautala, amid growing resentment against the Manohar Lal Khattar-Dushyant Chautala government.
“INLD had more people on stage than Dushyant had in his whole rally (on the same day, in Mewat),” added Karan.
Voters say no faith in Chautalas now
However, voters seem sceptical about INLD’s attempts to revive the party, recounting the party’s corruption history — Om Prakash Chautala completed his 10-year jail term in a teachers’ recruitment scam, in July. The voters also said that the party will likely ally with the BJP.
Sandeep Nain, who was among the thousands who attended the Jind rally, said Chautala will ally with the BJP, just like Dushyant did. “We voted for Dushyant, what did he do?” said the 26-year-old, whose family had been an INLD loyalist.
“We went to the rally only for ‘Tau’ Devi Lal’s birth anniversary. INLD is not the same anymore. The Jats don’t trust the Chautala family anymore. They have been trying to ally with the Jats from even before 2019,” said Nain, who is a resident of Danoda Kalan village.
Danoda Kalan and neighbouring Khurd villages have more than 15,000 voters. These villages were INLD bastions before voters switched over to the JJP after the vertical split.
Graft allegations surfaced even against Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala as voters spoke about corruption in the “family”. Dushyant holds several key portfolios in the government including revenue, and excise and taxation.
In Jind’s Ghogrian village, 58-year-old Rajesh Dalal said the family has only looted Haryana. “They know only how to scam. Dushyant took votes from us in the name of his grandfather,” he said.
Rajbir Singh, a 56-year-old retired Army officer-turned-farmer said the Jats know that every vote to Chautalas is a vote wasted.
This report has been updated to correct the date of INLD’s Jind rally. The error is regretted.