In the absence of Om Prakash Chautala, Devi Lal’s great grandsons to save party in Haryana

In the four-odd months since Om Prakash Chautala and his elder son Ajay were arrested following a conviction in a jobs-for-cash corruption case, the responsibility of keeping their party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) united and mobilised has been taken up by the great grandsons of Devi Lal, three of who are now busy cutting their teeth in Haryana’s politics.

With father Ajay Chautala in jail, his two sons Dushyant and Digvijay, who do not hold any party positions, have been made in-charge of the party’s campaign in the ongoing Municipal Corporation elections from Hissar and Panipat respectively. Similarly, Abhay (former chief minister Om Prakash’s younger son), has two sons — the elder, Karan, has been put in charge of the election in Yamunagar — and all three are busy holding public meetings with workers and constituents in the last few weeks.

As soon as the senior Chautalas were arrested in January this year, demoralisation set in the party cadres who saw it as the end of the road for their leaders’ political careers. Though Dushyant and Digvijay had campaigned during the 2011 Hissar by-election, with the two senior-most leaders out of action, it was important to field the family’s faces among the people and party units.

As a party insider observed, “The senior Chautalas’ incarceration has come as a blessing in disguise for these boys who are getting valuable public experience. Even though all three are in their early twenties, people can see the resemblance to Devi Lal in their faces and that is crucial for us at this stage.”

The INLD offices in Haryana now issue press releases and photographs of the three boys on a daily basis.

Om Prakash had always run the party with an iron hand, discouraging the rise of any charismatic non-family leader within the ranks. So, when the INLD suddenly became virtually headless in January, younger son Abhay, legislator from Ellenabad, found himself shouldering the media onslaught, as well as the sullen party cadres. This is when the decision to draft the younger Chautalas was taken and the three youngsters began by launching a ‘Pol Khol’ campaign against the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government in February.

During the Pol Khol campaign, Dushyant and Digvijay addressed public meetings in scores of villages across the State about the alleged corruption and wrongdoings of the Congress-led Haryana government. The three are also active on Facebook, and the old guard is appreciative of their online rapport with the younger recruits of the party.

Trouble followed Om Prakash even as he emerged on a six-week bail to get an implant inserted in his heart — the very next day, the Enforcement Directorate attached his Gurgaon flat in a 2008 Prevention of Money Laundering case against him. In his first press interaction with the media after getting bail, he said that the Congress party was misusing the CBI and the other government agencies to suppress the leaders of opposition parties.

While in the hospital, political circles were aflutter a couple of weeks ago, when BJP president Rajnath Singh visited him there. The BJP had broken its alliance with the INLD during the 2009 Assembly elections and preferred to ally with the Haryana Janhit Congress led by Kuldeep Bishnoi.

Now, Om Prakash has decreed that the “INLD will give its support to any party which will work to dethrone the Congress and our doors are open for any leader who has anti-Congress ideology.”

With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner and Assembly elections also due next year, this is a trying time for the INLD, which is hoping to wrest power in Haryana this time around.