In Haryana, Chautala attempts an anti-BJP, anti-Cong alliance

Chautala disabused people of the notion that he was not a contender for the chief minister’s post owing to his conviction in the teachers’ recruitment scam

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Ajay Singh | September 26, 2014




Symbolism plays a substantial role in defining Indian politics, and it was on full display at a rally where former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala assumed the role of a catalyst in attempting to forge an anti-BJP alliance.

On September 25, the 100th birth anniversary of his father and former deputy prime minister Chaudhary Devi Lal, he played a perfect host to leaders like Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, former Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, Samajwadi Party leader Shiv Pal Yadav and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav who represented a wide spectrum of forces looking at the potential of anti-BJP and anti-Congress politics. With the successful rally in Jind, Chautala also launched the Haryana assembly election campaign for his Indian National Lok Dal.

Addressing a large gathering of enthusiastic supporters, Chautala disabused people of the notion that he was not a contender for the chief minister’s post owing to his conviction in the teachers’ recruitment scam. “I will take oath in jail as the chief minister,” he said, making it clear that his conviction by court would not be an obstacle to his objective. “Have you not heard of people being sworn in as ministers without being elected?” he asked. The audience continued to cheer him all along the forceful and emotional 20-minute speech in which Chautala sought to turn his conviction into a political opportunity.

“I am not scared of going to jail,” he said, declaring that he would shortly launch a rath yatra to reach out to people across Haryana. “I suffered because I gave jobs to 3,000 people. If I win, I will give jobs to 3,00,000 now,” he declared, aiming for maximum mileage out of his incarceration. This was Chautala’s first appearance after his imprisonment in January 2013 and subsequent bail on health grounds.
The venue of the rally, Pandu village of Jind district, was chosen to convey a certain religious symbolism. Mythologically, Pandu village is known as the starting point of the epic battle of Mahabharat: the Pandavas embarked on a journey to war after paying ritual obeisance to their deceased ancestors here. In the same vein, Chautala declared that he would launch his political expedition after paying respects to his father on his birth anniversary.

Though Badal and Deve Gowda confined their brief speeches to non-political content and revived the memory of Devi Lal, Nitish grasped the symbolism of the event and elaborated upon it. Recalling the critical role Devi Lal played in dislodging the Rajiv Gandhi government, he described this rally as a precursor to a grand alliance against the Modi regime. “Look at the manner in which senior leaders like (Lal Krishna) Advani and (Murli Manohar) Joshi are being humiliated by the new dispensation in the BJP and here we are respecting the memory of our veteran leader by commemorating his 100th anniversary,” he said, drawing a comparison to emphasise his point.

Apparently, Chautala’s initiative to bring together these leaders is a rudimentary effort at forging a grand coalition against the BJP. Since Chautala’s incarceration evoked wide sympathy among the powerful Jats of Haryana, his electoral success can pave the way for a national coalition.

The rally was significant in many ways. For the first time, a leader convicted in a criminal case is determined to pursue his political objective by cocking a snook at the judicial process which debarred him from contesting elections. This may prove to be a learning experience for a similarly beleaguered Lalu Prasad who can take a leaf out of Chautala’s book.

Of course, the attempt to forge a grand alliance against the Modi-led NDA regime is bereft of any positive political agenda. It is guided solely by narrow and self-serving impulses. The BJP should realise its challenges are not over with the near-decimation of the Congress: unlikely forces are looking to join hands, and even allies are not permanent – Chautala, Nitish and Badal were sharing the dais on a day the BJP’s oldest ally, Shiv Sena, parted ways with the party after 25 years.

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