New Delhi: Persisting with his support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in Haryana is certainly not an easy bet for Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) supremo and Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala, as the pressure mounts to pull out of the BJP-JJP coalition in the state over the farmers’ protests.
Following a month of widespread protests against the controversial Farm Laws passed by the Centre under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chautala finally broke his silence and said that the laws needed amendments; he even offered to mediate between the farmers and the Centre in order to break the impasse.
However, his gesture has failed to impress the agitating peasants, who are saying that if Dushyant must lay claim to the legacy of his great grandfather (late Chaudhary Devi Lal, former Haryana CM and deputy PM, considered a champion of farmer causes), he must resign as the deputy CM and walk out of the government.
“It’s good that he finally acknowledged that the laws are in not in the farmers’ interest, but this realisation came too late. His words and his offer to act as a mediator are nothing more than an effort to damage control; it’s a mere eyewash. Choosing to side with the government, abandoning the farmers who trusted him and ensuring ten seats for his newly-formed party that paved way for him to emerge as kingmaker, he proved that he has become a BJP stooge,” Sonipat resident Akshaya Dahaiya, who belongs to the Dahaiya Khap and the Jai Maha Kisan Andolan, told NewsClick.
Dushyant, the 32-year-old former MP from Haryana’s Hisar district, floated his own outfit in November 2018 after he was thrown out of the India National Lok Dal (INLD) by the party chief, his grand father O.P. Chautala, second of four sons of Devi Lal. As the Haryana election results resulted in a hung assembly, Dushyant’s JJP, with ten seats in its kitty, supported the BJP to form the government in the state. Of the 90-member house, the coalition government in the state has 51 seats (BJP – 40, JJP – 10 and one independent MLA).
Protesters from Haryana said that it was not the first time that Dushyant has “ditched” them. “He first betrayed our trust when he joined the government. He was given a mandate against the BJP; but he preferred his vested interest and joined the incumbents,” said Dahaiya.
As Dushyant sealed an alliance with the BJP, which accepted the JJP’s offer to give the deputy chief minister’s post to the party, his father Ajay Chautala was granted furlough and released from Tihar Jail. Ajay and his father, Om Prakash Chautala, were convicted on January 16, 2013 by a Delhi court for illegally recruiting 3,206 junior teachers.
Ashok Danauda, another protester from Jind in Haryana, said Dushyant’s voters were so agitated that they had put up posters declaring him absconding and had announced an award for anyone who provided information about his whereabouts.
“He cannot even dare to visit his constituency. If he does so, he won’t return unharmed. He miscalculated the intensity and scale of this protest. He perhaps forgot that he belongs to the influential Jat community, which primarily depends on farming and these laws are death certificates for farmers. The Jats are very polite and welcoming; therefore, he took them for granted — forgetting that he is committing his political suicide,” he said, opining that both Dushyant and CM Manohar Lal Khattar would well end up being casualties of the farmers’ agitation.
The JJP is a rural Jat-centric party, with farmers as its core vote base. The party won eight of ten seats where Jats from the agrarian community are dominant. The majority of the farmers from Haryana who are protesting against the three legislations belong to the Jat community.
The BJP had to face the wrath of Jat community in Haryana in the last assembly election when the saffron party failed to secure the majority mark in the 90-member House. Except CM Khattar (who won from Karnal) and Anil Vij (Ambala cantonment), eight of their Cabinet colleagues (including Jat leaders Om Prakash Dhankar from Badli and Captain Abhimanyu from Narnaund constituency) were defeated in Jat-dominated constituencies.
As the ongoing stir gains ground, the party is failing to explain its stance. Many of its legislators have come out in support of the agitation, demanding immediate withdrawal of the laws so that the standoff can be resolved. The BJP-JJP alliance has already faced a blow after its defeat in the recently-held Baroda bypoll.
Both Khattar and Dushyant have faced the farmers’ ire at different occasions. While the former was shown black flags, his entourage blocked and made to go back on December when he on his way to Ambala to campaign for BJP candidates for the local civic body elections, the latter was heckled on September 30 in Kaithal where he had gone to visit Cheeka town.
On December 24, irate farmers dug up a helipad in Dushyant’s constituency — Uchana — where he was expected to land for an official programme. The protesting farmers asked Dushyant to pick a side.
“If Dushyant wants to claim the legacy of Chaudhary Devi Lal – who was a messiah for farmers and never compromised with our interests – he should stop clinging to power. He will have to make a choice now,” Rajendra Pradhan from Gawana told NewsClick.
Accusing him of “backstabbing” farmers, he said: “Haryana has a history of not forgiving backstabbers. He wooed farmers for votes against the BJP by making the false promise of loan waiver. Braving police’s tear gas shells, batons and water cannons, the same community is spending nights on the road in this spine-chilling cold. But Dushyant continues to sit in the lap of the BJP just to remain in power. He will never be forgiven,” he said. Pradhan also wondered why farmers, for whom the laws have been apparently brought in, were not consulted by the government. “Even convicts are asked their last wish,” he added.
Jaipal who belongs to Sisana in Sonipat said if Dushyant wants farmers to die, he will also not be allowed to enjoy power so peacefully. “We will make his life hell. Now its a fight of egos,” he fumed. Sudhir Jakhar, a resident of Chausi Majra in Haryana’s Panipat district, said Dushyant has closed his eyes to the farming community.
“The consequences of these laws for the farming community are no secret, but Dushyant has closed his eyes to this issue. I urge him and other leaders belonging to the agrarian community to withdraw their support to the BJP in Haryana. If the Shiromani Akali Dal can snap 23-year-old ties with the BJP, why can’t Dushyant?” he added, reminding him of his tractor ride to Parliament.
“You (Dushyant) had entered Parliament riding a tractor but forgot everything after coming to power. The breach of trust will continue to haunt you throughout your political career,” said the farmers’ leader.
As an Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) MP, Dushyant Chautala, the country’s youngest parliamentarian, had grabbed eyeballs in December 2017 when he reached Parliament to attend the Winter Session on a tractor in protest against the tweaking of certain rules of the Motor Vehicles Act.
Dushyant was with his family in South India when the distressed farmers from his state were at the state’s borders with national capital. He did not utter a word till November 26. He broke his silence only after negotiations with the government and farmer unions yielded no results.
When he spoke, he praised the government and accused the Opposition of misleading farmers. “The laws seek to bring reforms in agriculture sector and empower farmers. We assure that the MSP will continue to be given and farmers need not to be afraid. I will quit the day farmers stop getting MSP. So, the Opposition must stop misguiding the farming community,” he had said earlier.
Following an escalation of pressure on the JJP, he changed his tone and said the three Farm Laws needed amendments.
“I accept that these Farm Laws need some amendments. We had given suggestions to the Centre that were accepted. The suggestions were reflected in the letter the Union government had sent to the farmer unions while extending an invite for talks. The government offered to guarantee the MSP in writing, to make amendments to Electricity Amendment Bill among other demands,” he said in a presser on December 24.
He urged farmer representatives to provide suggestions to the government at is ready to hold negotiations.
“Farmer unions, which have already held six rounds of talks earlier, should come forward and engage in another round of dialogue when the Centre is ready for talks. No agitation has ever ended without talks being held. History is witness to the fact that agitations have failed when dialogue waas stopped. This deadlock will not end until you (farmer unions) give suggestions and hold talks,” he added.
Offering to act as a mediator between the government and the farmer unions, he said: “If the Centre gives me responsibility to mediate on those changes that are not being included, I am ready to do the needful.”
However, he ruled out any possibility of withdrawing support from the BJP-JJP government in Haryana. “I will resign the moment I fail to protect farmer’s interests,” he added.
The contentious Farm :aws passed by the Centre in September this year are the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The government argues that these legislations would bring “reforms” in the agricultural sector, protesting peasants reject the argument alleging the laws are aimed at befitting corporates.