In September 1657, news of Shah Jahan’s illness triggered a battle of succession. Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and killed his brothers to wrest the Mughal crown. Over three centuries later, another ugly dynastic battle is playing out, this time in Haryana.
Former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, serving a 10-year sentence in Tihar Jail for illegal recruitment of teachers, chose younger son, Abhay, to be his heir. It was assumed that Abhay’s sons, Karan and Arjun, would be the Generation Next thus shifting the line of succession from older to the younger son.
But, Abhay’s older brother Ajay, who, too, is in jail in the teacher scam, broke from the Chautala family-run Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). He floated the Jananayak Janata Party (JJP) with his sons, Member of Parliament from Hisar, Dushyant and Digvijay, who leads the party’s youth wing.
The family feud is beginning to tell.
In January’s Jind Assembly bypoll, the last test of the ballot in Haryana before the country votes for a new government, both INLD and JJP lost.
Sitting in his 18 Janpath office in Delhi’s power district, 30-year-old Dushyant laughs off the comparison with the Mughal dynasty whose family battles led to its dissipation. "I think we were successful in the Jind bypoll. Within 50 days of floating a new party, we went from zero to 38,000 votes. Even the BJP considers us its main opponent in Haryana," Dushyant says. Brother Digvijay was the Jind candidate.
Dushyant rules out truce with his estranged uncle and cousins. "We are politically different entities now and it’s better to stay away from INLD," he says. Two months ago, Ajay, Digvijay and he were thrown out of INLD by Chautala. The Jind election was a test of who the inheritor was - and the crown has slid off Abhay and landed with Ajay’s side of the family.
Here’s how: with 37,000-plus votes, JJP couldn’t win the seat earlier held by INLD’s Hari Chand Middha. Middha’s son Krishna, caught in the middle of the family feud, chose to shift to BJP and won. This is the first time that BJP has won Jind. But JJP, too, made gains. INLD’s voters shifted to the Ajay faction. INLD’s Umed Singh Redhu barely secured 3,500 votes despite Chautala speaking in his favour.
Dushyant and Digvijay have come out on top for a reason. They resonate with the rising aspirational class among Jats—perhaps even non-Jats.
Both were educated in leading residential schools and Dushyant also has a university degree from abroad. Yet, they aren’t alienated from their roots. Their supporters find their political style akin to that of their great-grandfather, Devi Lal. Their personality bridges the divide between tradition and modernity, which is in tune with the larger trend in the state.
Haryana’s youth are embracing change, catalysed by smartphones and social networking. Even some Jat khaps have tried to appeal to these aspirations by launching Twitter and Facebook accounts. Karan and Arjun, contrarily, represent Haryana’s rustic element - they’re closer to their grandfather in style and substance.
Jind results offer other clues to these changes. In 2014, INLD got around 31,000 votes, of which 23,000 were in villages, neatly conforming to the party’s identification with the Jat community and farmers.
This time, JJP got 24,000 rural votes—just 1,000 more. However, its urban tally nearly doubled. Traditionally, INLD never crossed 8,500 votes in cities but JJP got 16,000 urban votes. "We’re not a Jat party but represent all sections," says Dushyant.
In the bypoll, even BJP made inroads into villages, bagging 14,000 rural votes. Arguably, these are the Congress party’s voters, who have migrated to the ruling BJP. This is because typically, Congress and INLD supporters don’t transfer their loyalties. With JJP, now there are three parties that represent Jat interests in Haryana, limiting the community’s political appeal.
"We were initially nervous when Congress fielded Kaithal legislator Randeep Surjewala, a strong Jat candidate, in Jind. We thought he’d lure our Jat voters. Instead, Congress’ voters migrated to BJP," says a JJP leader, who closely tracked the Jind election.
Voters also migrated to BJP because of the backlash against Haryana’s Jat dominance. “When an established community loses hegemony, it leads to consolidation of others,” says Prof Pramod Kumar, director, Institute for Development and Communication, Chandigarh. He’s referring to Haryana’s 26 per cent Jats, who have traditionally voted INLD, and their conflict with other communities, particularly Punjabis. “People may now be drawn to Khattar for his clean image,” he says of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Jats are also considered dabang—aggressive—an image that was reinforced when in 2013 businesses and properties owned by Punjabis were destroyed as the Jat community demanded quota in jobs and education.
"Jats don’t want to be out of power but non-Jats want a share in power too. They resent Jats for wanting only Jat chief ministers," says M Rajivlochan, who teaches history at Panjab University, Chandigarh.
INLD and JJP need a larger pan-Haryana identity. Dynastic succession has placed Dushyant and Digvijay in the limelight but they need political allies to come to power. Dushyant’s Diwali meeting with Rao Inderjit, a BJP Member of Parliament who enjoys the support of Gurgaon’s Yadav community, came a cropper.
In Jind, the INLD-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance fared badly, prompting the BSP leader Mayawati to ask the Chautalas to resolve their dispute. Dushyant, however, rules out a compromise. "On expansion, I’ll only say that more MLAs will join us soon," the JJP founder says. Another possibility is that the Aam Aadmi Party and JJP will ally for the assembly polls eight months on, banking on their urban-centric appeal.
"One cannot rule INLD out because such parties have strong local roots and are skilled at political maneuverings even after losing their ability to form majorities," says Harish Puri, who taught political science at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.
JJP and INLD have to consolidate Jat votes, find allies across Haryana’s social groups or support another party in future elections. Jind marks the first battle in the war of succession afoot in the Chautala dynasty, with round one decisively going in favour of the Dushyant-Digvijay duo.