Jind: The people of Haryana fondly remembers late freedom fighter Chaudhary Devi Lal as 'Tau'. The former deputy Prime Minister, Haryana chief minister and popular farmer leader had laid the foundations of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) with the prominent Chautala family as its backbone.
A bitter family rift has now left that backbone in two pieces, with both claiming ownership to Devi Lal's legacy.
Backed by his elder brother Dushyant and the newly floated Jananayak Janata Party (JJP), Digvijay Chautala now invokes his great grandfather in his every address and interaction during his election campaign for Jind bypoll.
For him, it is clear that JJP is the true bearer of Devi Lal's baton. "This (JJP) is not a new party. Chaudhary Devi Lal's party can change its name, but its foundations are very old," the 27-year-old leader told News18.com on his campaign trail on Thursday. Even his party workers and supporters sing songs of his likeness to Devi Lal.
After Ajay Singh Chautala and his sons Dushyant, the Lok Sabha MP from Hisar, and Digvijay were expelled from INLD in November last year, JJP came into being with the elder son at the helm.
A little over a month later, the nascent political outfit faces its first big challenge in Jind that goes to polls on 28 January. There wasn't even enough time for JJP to formally enter the race and Digvijay is contesting as an independent, backed by the new party and his brother Dushyant.
He believes JJP to be clearly distinct from Lok Dal and free of all its flaws. “The ones who were acceptable to all formed JJP, while the ones who with a rigid mindset were left on the other side. They do not have much acceptance in today’s politics," Digvijay said.
According to Digvijay, JJP represents a softer version of the INLD. "Dushyant's educated background, his work ethics and polite demeanour have helped changed the perception," he said. But JJP
does share its DNA with the Chautala clan and INLD and hence, banking on that too.
Digvijay believes JJP has attracted a strong and faithful cadre that existed from the times of Devi Lal. Infusion of some new blood from his student politics days with the Indian National Student Union (INSO), Lok Dal's student front, will hopefully create a mixture of young and old support. "People who were not with us before, have joined in support of JJP. They want change. So it has become a big movement," Digvijay said.
Six feet, four inches tall, Digvijay towers above the crowd of supporters that surround him as he campaigns across the streets in Jind. The bypoll is a test, he tells people. “Give me one opportunity and 10 months later, when the assembly election happens, I will come back and ask for your votes on the basis of my work.” Jind bypoll has, thus, become a marker not just for JJP, but for all parties in the fray.
The results would indicate which way Haryana will swing in the upcoming Lok Sabha poll and state election later in the year.
“Our dream of making Jind the political and developmental capital of Haryana is in your hands,” Digvijay said in his campaign, adding, "If we form the government, we will shift the chief minister's residence and office from Chandigarh to Jind."
JJP has also found friends in the political spectrum and have aligned with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) for the bypoll and beyond. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party has been trying to make inroads into Haryana and has found ideological partners in JJP with a common agenda of development.
"When two parties care about the same issues, they should work together," an AAP worker said on the sidelines of Digvijay's campaign.
Digvijay too said it was an alliance against ‘communal and extreme right forces'. "If people with a clean image and similar ideology come together for change, it will have a positive result," he said.
But the alliance with AAP has also stoked the fire in an already bitter family feud. The Delhi government cancelled INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala's furlough from Tihar Jail earlier this week. The party patriarch, who was supposed to campaign for Lok Dal for the bypoll, has accused his grandsons of colluding with AAP and "backstabbing" him to keep him away from Jind.
Following the incident, Chautala senior's wife and Digvijay's grandmother Snehlata said, "If I die tomorrow, they (Ajay Chautala and his sons Dushyant and Digvijay) should not touch my body,” in a viral video.
Digvijay, in response, said he respected his grandmother a lot and the statement was absurd. "It is clear in the video that words are being put in her mouth. I just want to say imagine what the circumstances would have been for her to say that," Digvijay said, adding he did not wish to drag his family affairs into public life, politics and especially the media.
"I respect my elders and my grandparents are like the voice of god for me. I can't say more than that," he said.
The youngest Chautala, however, maintained that a return to INLD was not on the cards. "We never left Lok Dal. We always served INLD as it were our mother. But they threw us out. There is no question of going back to them."
Digvijay faces a tough competition in Jind. While INLD has fielded local contractor Umedh Singh Redhu, the BJP and Congress have brought out their big guns. Krishan Midha, son of Hari Chand Midha, two-time Jind MLA from INLD whose death necessitated this bypoll, is in the fray from BJP.
For Congress, its communication in-charge and sitting MLA from Kaithal, Randeep Singh Surjewala, is contesting.
Digvijay, who was involved in student politics with the INSO for years, agreed that this was his first foray into mainstream politics, but said that those with more experience had delivered nothing.
"As a sitting MLA, he (Surjewala) never raised a single issue in the assembly. He has never raised any concern for Jind. He only attended 73 days of Vidhan Sabha session in the last four years," Digvijay said.
According to him, the people of Jind had the ability to recognise an outsider when they saw one. Digvijay has promised to bring infrastructural development and jobs to the region, something that Jind has been lacking. "Why choose someone who wants to serve Rahul Gandhi, but not his city or his constituency? He is more confined to Delhi and the national capital is more suitable for him. People of Jind will send him back to Delhi as a parcel to Rahul."