For a party that is down and out with two of its top leaders behind bars in a corruption case, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) led by Om Prakash Chautala not only pulled off a spectacular political show on the birth centenary of Devi Lal held at Kurukshetra last week, but has also set off speculation about the likelihood of the BJP once again allying with it. That the saffron party is in a commanding position this time is more than evident from the unilateral offer of support for Narendra Modi by Abhay Chautala younger son of Om Prakash Chautala.
But the BJP, which was represented by its spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi at the rally, is not biting as yet. This because both the senior Chautala a former Haryana Chief Minister and his elder son Ajay Chautala are in jail since January after being convicted by a CBI court for a scam in recruitment of 3,000 JBT teachers. Their appeal against the conviction is being argued before a single Bench of the Delhi High Court and a decision is expected sometime next month.
If the Chautalas get some relief from the Court it will most certainly end their current political isolation and make it possible for the BJP to once again join hands with it. From all indications, the BJP, which had an acrimonious split from the Chautalas during the 2009 Assembly elections--when it allied with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) led by Kuldip Bishnoi, son of former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal--is not averse to having the INLD on board once again. The presence of Mr. Naqvi on the INLD’s stage where he called upon “all parties who oppose the Congress to come together and fight corruption and price rise” is seen as evidence of its interest in the INLD.
Meanwhile Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal whose Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is in alliance with the BJP and he himself being a personal friend of the Chautalas, urged the two parties to forget past differences and join hands. BJP insiders admit that the conviction of the Chautalas is the major hurdle in forging a formal alliance as it would significantly dilute the saffron party’s anti- corruption plank in the Lok Sabha polls.
The INLD was a constituent of the NDA government and the alliance was based on the tried and tested combination of the INLD’s rural Jat vote-bank with the BJP’s primarily urban non Jat votes. Ideally, the BJP would like the INLD to come on board in addition to the HJC and also rebel Congress MP from Gurgaon Rao Inderjeet Singh who has influence in Ahir dominated areas of the State. But the HJC and the INLD are anathema for each other, the late Bhajan Lal and Mr Chautala having been on opposite side of the ideological divide.
According to BJP sources, Mr. Abhay Chautala’s announcement of support for Narender Modi means that even if the BJP does not forge a formal alliance with it an informal understanding on some seats cannot be ruled out. But there is a powerful section in the Haryana BJP that sees the people’s interest in Mr. Modi as an opportunity for the party to emerge out of the shadow of a regional player and become a major player in Haryana politics. For this it needs the dominant Jat votes (around 22%) and its Jat leaders like Captain Abhimanyu Singh claim that their feedback indicates a significant shift of the Jats towards Mr. Modi. So far, the Jat vote has been divided between the INLD and the Congress, both of which have prominent Jat leaders. The BJP reckons that if it gets a significant percentage of Jat votes in the Lok Sabha elections it can field a Jat as the chief ministerial candidate for the Assembly election due next October.
Not oblivious of this, the Congress is fast tracking the proposal to provide reservation in government jobs to Jats in the backward class category. If this comes through, the current interest for Mr. Modi among the rural Jats may well wane. In that eventuality the BJP will have no choice but to fall back on its former ally, the INLD to bring in some Jat votes.