As Farm Protests Grow, Dushyant Chautala Faces ‘Sophie’s Choice’: To Dump BJP Or Not

Arihant Pawariya

Dec 15, 2020, 04:26 PM | Updated 04:25 PM IST

Dushyant Chautala speaking to farmers.
Dushyant Chautala speaking to farmers.
  • The best political decision Chautala can make is to join hands with Hooda, and he can always rejoin the BJP depending on the election results.
  • Haryana political scene has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for the last six years. First, in October 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which used to have MLAs who could fit comfortably in a hatchback won majority on its own in a 90 member assembly for the first time in the state’s history.

    Then, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), founded by former deputy prime minister of India Devi Lal and his son Om Prakash Chautala, and which (and its antecedents) gave Haryana its five chief ministers, split in 2017 as Chautala’s sons Ajay and Abhay could no longer reconcile their differences.

    Ajay and his sons Dushyant and Digvijay formed their own Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) as O P Chautala and his younger son Abhay tried hard to dismiss the new faction as irrelevant. But the JJP emerged as the winner and it was INLD which soon became irrelevant. JJP won 10 seats in 2019 assembly elections. INLD could only clinch one.

    Another interesting development that took place was the underperformance of the BJP in assembly elections last year. While it campaigned on “Abki baar, 75 paar” slogan, the party managed to get only 40 seats after much difficulty, five short of the majority.

    Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who was on the verge of quitting Congress before the election, ended up winning 31 seats for his party. As it turned out, reports of his political death were greatly exaggerated.

    After the election, in a surprising development, JJP which had fought vehemently and primarily against the Manohar Lal Khattar government during the election, decided to forge an alliance with the BJP. Dushyant Chautala became a villain overnight in the eyes of his own hardcore supporters. But many were willing to give the youngster a chance.

    Despite the criticism, it was a wise decision on part of Chautala: JJP and BJP are natural allies — the former is strong in rural areas, the latter in urban. The former’s vote base comprises of farmers and Jats, the latter is strong among traders and non-Jats and the BJP and INLD had successfully run a coalition government from 2000-2005 in Haryana.

    Both parties complement each other well (combined vote share of both the parties in 2019 assembly election was just over 50 per cent). When parties as different as JJP and the BJP fight in an alliance, complete transfer of votes doesn’t take place (as they found out in Baroda by poll recently), still, if both partners work in tandem, deliver for their vote base and have no ulterior motives of stabbing each other’s back, such coalitions could be formidable.

    But unfortunately for the JJP-BJP combine, most of the time since the time of their alliance has been wasted in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Just when governance was starting to return to normalcy, the alliance has come under great strain with farmers from Punjab blocking the borders to Delhi with Haryana farmers showing sympathy and providing support.

    Chautala had earned some of the lost goodwill among his supporters when the Haryana government passed the law to mandate 75 per cent jobs in private sector for local youth. This was his biggest poll promise and he delivered. But the gains have been completely undone by the growing resentment of farmers towards the three farm laws which Chautala is supporting.

    On the one hand, he is egged on by Bhupinder Singh Hooda to break ties with the BJP and on the other hand, his own supporters are calling him a traitor who has abandoned their interests in exchange for comfort of power.

    Chautala’s assurances on the Centre’s farm reforms and his promise that he will quit if farmers don’t get MSP (minimum support price) have fallen on deaf ears. As many as five of his MLAs have backed farmers as they are also feeling the heat from their constituents.

    This is bound to make Chautala jittery. This is the reason why he is pressing for early resolution of the matter between farm unions and the Centre. If the protests swell, he may not be able to keep his flock of MLAs intact and they might defect.

    Chautala is faced with something of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’. He cannot leave the BJP coalition now. He has put his personal political capital at stake by joining the government but hasn’t earned much in return so far to justify going back to his people for their vote. Staying with the BJP is also not benefiting him much. And there is no guarantee that this alliance will pay off in near future.

    JJP is a new party and it needed the power to provide itself and its cadre a fillip. But the same power may be proving too costly now. The irony is breaking ties with the BJP at this juncture could make matters worse.

    The only option left is for the JJP to join hands with Hooda’s Congress which is the only gainer and is doing so at the expense of both the JJP and the BJP, in both the rural and urban areas, among Jats and non-Jats, among farmers and non-farmers.

    What will Chautala gain by joining Congress? As far as political power is concerned, Hooda would happily give him same deal as the BJP has struck with him: deputy Chief Minister post to Dushyant, number of ministries to its MLAs and plum posts in government bodies to the rest. So, there is no special benefit.

    And as many political pundits argue that in the long run, the JJP’s main opposition is not the BJP but Hooda’s Congress as the core vote base of both the parties is same: rural areas and Jats (though of different regions of Haryana).

    However, I would still argue that the best political decision Chautala can make is to join hands with Hooda, form the government, appoint one of his non-Jat MLA as deputy chief minister, run the government for remaining four years and fight elections together with Congress in 2024.

    He can always rejoin the BJP depending on the election results but one thing is certain. If he sticks with the BJP, there is a good chance he will be wiped out in the next election along with significant reduction in BJP’s tally. If BJP and JJP part ways, both can retain their vote bank (and even strengthen them further).

    Whatever decision he makes, it won’t be an easy one and will have major consequences for his own future and the state’s politics as well but it hardly makes sense for Chautala to treat Hooda’s Congress as his main rival in the long term when his own party’s future in the short and medium term is at stake. In the long run, we are all dead, anyway.

    Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.

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