New Delhi: Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) supremo Om Prakash Chautala’s rally Saturday to declare a ‘Third Front’ turned out to be a fairly anti-climactic event.
For the ‘Samman Diwas Samaroh’ in Haryana’s Jind, to mark the 108th birth anniversary of former deputy prime minister and Chautala’s father Chaudhary Devi Lal, the INLD had invited a bunch of opposition leaders from across the country.
These included West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, Shiromani Akali Dal supremo Parkash Singh Badal, former Uttar Pradesh CM Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Jammu and Kashmir CM Farooq Abdullah, and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Chaudhary Jayant Singh. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, an ally of the BJP, was also invited.
But from this long list, only Abdullah and Badal turned up. So too did K.C. Tyagi of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) and the BJP’s own former Union minister Birender Singh, who is said to be disgruntled with the BJP high command, spoke in support of the farmers protesting against the Narendra Modi government’s three farm laws, and thanked Chautala for inviting him. His son Brijendra Singh, a former IAS officer, is the sitting BJP MP from Hisar.
The INLD, which has been out of power for 16 years in Haryana, was seeking to use the rally as a big declaration of the formation of a Third Front. INLD general secretary Abhay Singh Chautala had earlier said that people were looking for an alternative to the BJP and Congress and the aim was to “form the Third Front for the overall welfare of the country and the people”.
‘Need to form regional front’
To explain the absence of the guests, Abhay Chautala said Deve Gowda, Jayant Chaudhary and Mulayam Singh Yadav were meant to attend but ill-health and prior commitments prevented them.
But veteran leaders Badal and Abdullah, both multiple-time CMs of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir respectively, did register their presence.
Badal noted the need for the consolidation of a “regional front” not just in Haryana, but across the country. “Those in power are sitting in Delhi. They don’t know your struggles. They have never even seen a village. How will they understand your plight?” he said.
The 93-year-old leader asserted that until regional parties put up a consolidated front, “nothing will happen”. He explained how the Janata Party was started by all those thrown in prison by the Congress during Emergency.
Farooq Abdullah, meanwhile, said everyone wanted India to be strong and make progress, yet it is in trouble now. “Aaj vatan mushkil mein hai,” he said.
Abdullah also stressed the need to withdraw the three farm laws, assuring the crowd that the current dispensation will have to bow before the farmers.
Speaking about Jammu and Kashmir, he said India was “weakened” by the scrapping of Article 370. He added that while the country belonged to everyone, people are being discriminated against on the basis of their religion. “Ram sab ka Ram hai, sirf BJP aur RSS ka Ram nahi hai (Ram belongs to everyone, not just the BJP and the RSS),” he said.
Birender Singh backs farmers over party
Birender Singh, a former Congress leader who joined the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was a surprise attendee at the rally. He is said to be upset with the party high command, and was earlier made to resign not just as Union minister but also as a Rajya Sabha MP.
Despite being in the ruling BJP, Singh has been sitting with the protesting farmers and has equated the movement to Jayaprakash Narayan’s struggle before and during the Emergency.
At the INLD rally, Singh not only expressed gratitude to Chautala for inviting him, but also said he would visit again if invited.
Speaking about the farmers’ protests, Singh said, “In the fight for farmers and their rights, there will soon be a time when a leader will emerge and farmers will say, ‘follow him, we will be successful’.”
Singh also questioned the consolidation of the country’s wealth in the hands of a few, adding that no farmer was a crorepati or an arabpati (billionaire).
“Anyone who tries to divide us needs to be destroyed and given a sound answer,” he added.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)