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Fight in the name of the fathers

Bhiwani, May 2: The heirs of Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and Om Prakash Chautala, who have dominated Haryana politics for decades, will take their family rivalry a stage further when they battle it out in the Bhiwani Lok Sabha seat.

Congress leader Bhajan Lal, Haryana Vikas Party chief Bansi Lal and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala have been bitter rivals, but never squared off in an electoral contest. However, their sons, Kuldeep, Surender and Ajay, will do just that in what is being dubbed the “mother of all battles”.

In Ajay Chautala’s case, the rivalry goes back two generations. Chautala’s father, the late Devi Lal, was a prominent figure in state politics and even served as deputy Prime Minister in the V.P. Singh government.

Bhiwani district was synonymous in the seventies and early eighties with former chief minister Bansi Lal, with Devi Lal emerging as a Jat leader of stature in the same decade. Bhajan Lal, with his aya Ram, gaya Ram brand of politics, had a couple of chances in between as chief minister, found favour with the Congress at the Centre and even held a ministerial berth.

The rivalry of these “kingmakers” now passes to another generation with Ajay Chautala, the sitting Bhiwani MP, squaring off with Surender Lal, whom he unseated last time, and Kuldeep Lal. Ajay is likely to retain his seat, but with a much lower margin. In 1999, he had won by nearly 300,000 votes. Kuldeep has never fought an election from Bhiwani.

Haryana’s scions were born into politics, and have generally lived well off it. Consider this: the assets detailed by the trio at the time of filing nomination papers runs into a few crores each. Ajay has listed his assets at Rs 6.71 crore (excluding his Hindu Undivided Family assets pegged at Rs 1.12 crore), Surender has mentioned Rs 6.7 crore (with no cars) and Kuldeep, a whopping Rs 14.45 crore. Surender reportedly had to file his nomination again as he “had missed an important asset”.

As cane-juice seller Jaswant on Hansi chowk said: “Ye khel loktantra nahin, karoretantra hai (This is not democracy, but a game played by crorepatis).”

The disclosure of assets has stunned Bhiwani voters, who have for the first time received first-hand knowledge about their candidates’ wealth. “Look at the figures. Look at the names of the cars. Look at the list of the diamond and gold jewellery. Look at the assets in the names of their children. We are poor because our leaders make money out of our plight,” lamented Kailasho Devi, who had been brought from Bahel by INLD workers for Ajay’s nomination.

Accusations and counter- accusations over assets are likely to do the rounds over the next few days as the poll campaign picks up. The heirs apparent are gearing up to explain their earnings. “We are clean,” all three say, but admit they are uneasy about how the public will react.

Ajay has his father to help him out in the contest, but Bhajan and Bansi are depending on their sons to keep the flame alive. “Kuldeep will win. It is a contest for the second place between Surender and Ajay,” father Bhajan said.

But Chautala, taking a swipe at Bhajan, said the Congress era had ended. “Bhajan should retire along with his son. Ajay is capable of looking after the people of his constituency,” the proud dad said.

The Jat vote will determine which son romps home. As the mercury soars, tempers have also risen in Vidhwan, Kalali, Sevach, Mandoli and many other villages over which scion should be elected — Jats num-ber around 4 lakh in the constituency.

The Bansi Lal clan has nursed Bhiwani over the years, but failed to keep its voter base intact, mainly due to the HVP’s alliance with the BJP in the nineties. A defeat in the 2000 Assembly polls left the party with just two MLAs.

Ajay and his father never fail to mention the BJP factor at every meeting, despite hav- ing an alliance with the party until recently. “Kamal ka phool gandagi mein khilta hai aur Haryana se humne gandagi nikaal di hai (The lotus blooms in filth and we have removed filth from Haryana),” the Bhiwani MP said.

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