It is an unparalleled saga of contemporary political history that stands at an interesting juncture at this point of time. It is related to two political forces, both with an important regional stature, in two neighbouring states that have had powerful patriarchs in the past.

Having enjoyed power in their respective states and also having been a part of the ruling alliances at the centre, both these forces today stand at the margins and are fighting their separate battles for revival. This is the story of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) in Punjab and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in Haryana.

The two parties have always been close to each other, their ‘ruling families’ have had close ties for almost five decades. This despite the fact that the two have at times been on the opposite sides on the fence on contentious inter-state matters like the unresolved Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal.

Of course many feel that two forces boxed a friendly bout at times and history has been kind to them. On most occasions when one was playing aggressively to its gallery in their native state, the other was playing Opposition in its own state.

It is better to start with the account of the force from Haryana often referred to as the ‘younger brother’ of the two states. The INLD came into being somewhere in 1996 after changes in the nomenclature over the last almost two decades.

Its founder was none other than Chaudhary Devi Lal who had been India’s Deputy Prime Minister during the brief Janata Dal government that was led by Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh. A champion of farmers’ rights, Devi Lal had been the chief minister of Haryana on two occasions.

The INLD had also been a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre from 1998 to 2004 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. It needs to be pointed out here that the native villages of Devi Lal and the Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal are located in neighbouring districts of Sirsa in Haryana, and Bathinda in Punjab.

The two families were said to be on good terms before also, but it was during the Emergency that the bond between these two patriarchs had been cemented. Sources say that in 1998 it was on Badal’s intervention that the INLD had agreed to become a part of the NDA.

Devi Lal’s son Om Prakash Chautala was the Chief Minister of Haryana on four different occasions but it was only once that he had been in office for a complete five year term. On the remaining three occasions, his tenures were very small.

The INLD has been out of office since 2005 and it is Chautala’s son Abhay Singh Chautala who under the guidance of his ageing father is striving hard to revive the party.

Incidentally Abhay’s nephew and Om Prakash Chautala’s grandson Dushyant Chautala who is the present Deputy Chief Minister of Haryana. A family feud had taken a toll on the party in 2018 with Dushyant and his brother Digvijay Chautala going on to form Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) that entered into an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Their father Ajay Singh Chautala is the president of the party.

The hostilities go to the extent that Om Prakash Chautala and Abhay Singh Chautala had reportedly kept away from Digvijay’s wedding functions that was held in March this year.

Coming back to the INLD, observers point out various reasons for its marginalisation in Haryana politics. It is being pointed out that one of the key reasons is that it has always been a ‘dynastic enterprise’ with the Chautala clan at the top.

This party continues with its image of being a force entrenched in the rural areas of the state, with its stronghold in the districts of Bangar belt like Sirsa, Hisar and Jind. Many observers feel that the conviction of Om Prakash Chautala and Ajay Chautala in a teacher recruitment scam that saw them serving a 10-year sentence also took a major toll on the party when only Abhay was left as the key leader to take the party forward.

“Om Prakash Chautala’s tenure had seen him coming out of the shadow of the stalwart Tau (as Devi Lal is fondly remembered). The tenure saw a lot of development, particularly in rural areas, in terms of road network, engineering colleges and other infrastructure.

“It was the era in which there were ministers like Sampat Singh that saw the state getting recognition for efficient Value Added Tax (VAT) management. But then came the teachers’ recruitment scandal. It needs to be understood that the lure of a government job is the pivot of enrolment of newcomers to any political party in Haryana.

“The party today stands on the margins fighting for its survival but Abhay is leading a spirited fight back. And as they say there are no full stops in politics and you never know when things can turn around,” said Ajay Gautam who has been chronicling political developments in the state for the last more than two decades.

The plight of INLD can be gauged from the fact that it has fared poorly in all the elections it has contested after 2000. It has lost four consecutive state assembly polls. It had two members in the 16th Lok Sabha with Dushyant representing Hisar and Charanjeet Singh Rori representing Sirsa Lok Sabha seats.

With the party standing on the margins ahead of the all important Lok Sabha and subsequent state assembly polls to be held next year, it is Abhay who has embarked on a march across the state from February 20 this year.

The 219-day march will conclude on September 25 that happens to be the birth anniversary of INLD patriarch Tau. During this time Abhay plans to cover all the 90 assembly constituencies in the state. The march is for ‘parivartan’ or change. It started from the Nuh district in the southern part of the state.

“Besides touching every section of the society during the march, Abhay is strategically targeting the youth. He has been promising that his party will be fielding youngsters on at least 50% of the seats in the coming elections. He has been getting a good response at places,” Gautam said.

Abhay has been using this initiative to constantly target the Manohar Lal Khattar government in the state taking potshots on various issues whether they are farmer centric, employment related or women centric. He has also been very vocal about the support to the women wrestlers, majority of whom are from his state, protesting at Jantar Mantar in the national capital against alleged sexual harassment.

“What can be more shameful than this, our daughters, who have brought laurels to the country and the state all over the world with their talent in the sport of wrestling, have to sit on dharna for justice? INLD party stands with these brave daughters of the country. The government should fulfil their demands as soon as possible and whoever is guilty should be punished severely,” Abhay had tweeted.

According to a party spokesperson, “INLD's 'Parivartan Padyatra Aapke Dwar' is getting strong support from every section and people will teach this government a befitting lesson in next year's elections.”

On Sunday, Abhay appealed for co-operation and support by addressing public meetings in the villages of Nalwa area of Hisar where the Yatra reached on its 80th day. He said that the BJP government is working in an arbitrary manner and the government that does not respect the sentiments of the people, its end is bound to come.

“The BJP government did demonetisation without taking public opinion first due to which the people had to face a lot of problems. The government claimed that this would end corruption and bring back black money. But nothing like this happened.

“But there was a lot of corruption to exchange the notes. The moneylenders definitely got their black money converted into white under the guise of demonetisation,” Abhay Chautala said.

The INLD leader said that now the government has again announced the discontinuation of the Rs 2,000 note without consulting anyone. This time also the government is making the same claim that there will be an attack on corruption, but this claim will also remain futile.

He said that everyone is critical about the ‘dictatorial attitude’ of the government and is eagerly waiting for the elections to teach a lesson to this ‘anti-people’ government.

Attacking the government he said the youth are not getting jobs, labourers are wandering from door to door in search of work, the state's roads are in bad condition, people in villages are craving for drinking water, farmers’ produce is not being bought and those whose produce has been sold are not being paid the remuneration in time. “Despite this, those in power are trying to trap the people by spreading a web of lies and confusion”, he added.

He said that presently Haryana is not on the path of development but on the path of destruction. “The coalition leaders have looted the state and put the burden of debt on the common man. Now the time has changed and people are just waiting for the elections. In these elections, where the BJP-JJP government is sure to be wiped out from the state, a new government will be formed at the Centre as well,” he said.

It is pertinent to know that right from its beginning; the INLD leadership has strived to build a third political alternative in the country and has fought for the federal rights of the state.

The story has many similarities in the context of neighbouring Punjab where India’s oldest regional force – SAD (Badal) stands pushed to the margins even as it is fighting for revival. The Akalis too have been out of power in the state for the last two terms.

On both the occasions and in the recent by-polls they have been relegated to the third place with the entry and establishment of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a serious third force in the state that had till a few years ago mainly witnessed a bipolar polity between the Akalis and the Congress.

The Akali patriarch Parkash Singh Badal who had been the state’s chief minister on five occasions passed away last month. It is now a challenge left to his son and present party president Sukhbir Singh Badal to revive this party that has often been on the forefront when it came to fighting for the deferral rights.

His party too had been a part of the NDA, though for a much longer period than the INLD, till it walked out of the alliance on the controversial farm laws.

Here too there were differences in the family that saw the departure of Manpreet Singh Badal who is the son of Parkash Singh Badal’s brother and was a finance minister in the Akali government at one time. He moved on to float his own party that merged with the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls.

He later moved out from the Congress to currently lodge himself in the BJP. In a stark similarity to the INLD, the Akali Dal too at present remains a ‘dynastic enterprise’. Another similarity between the two forces remains that they have grown around the farmer centric issues in the past.

In the case of Akalis the panthic agenda has been an add on as it has always projected itself as the party of Sikhs though Badal senior often shuttled between Punjabiyat and being a Sikh force.

Despite losing out on political power since 2017 and also its stakes in the Centre where Sukhbir’s wife Harsimrat Kaur Badal was a part of the Narendra Modi led cabinet, the party retains control over the powerful institutions like the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) and the Akal Takht.

The party continues to suffer from a trust deficit when it comes to the public perception as it has failed to make electoral gains despite making right noises of late.

The party continues to position itself on the issue of federalism. The most recent example is its coming forward to attack the promulgation of National Capital Civil Services Authority by the BJP led government at the Centre. This stand of the party comes despite the fact that it is at loggerheads with the AAP government in the state.

Party spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema took to tweeting the stand of the party saying, “Promulgation of ordinance by centre to create National Capital Civil Services Authority is unconstitutional, un-democratic and against the spirit of federalism. It is also a challenge to the authority of the Supreme Court.

“So the centre must take it back. But, the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is asking opposition for support must explain his own silence when a number of anti-federal decisions were taken by the Centre earlier.

“He must explain that why his party was silent when BSF jurisdiction was increased From 15 to 50 km in Punjab, when control of dams was taken by the Centre, state’s rights were ignored in appointment of members of BBMB, regional languages including Punjabi was included as minor subject in CBSE, when the Centre interfered in the maintenance of law and order by constituting its own organisations etc.

“On all these issues his party was with the Centre. Apart from this he should also explain that which section of the constitution allows him to control the state government of Punjab from Delhi?”

The party continues to raise the issues pertaining to the peasantry, the most recent being the manhandling of protestors at Hargobindpur in Gurdaspur. A video of police personnel slapping a woman protesting land acquisition had gone viral from the place.

The party came out saying, “The AAP government and its Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who heads the home department, have exposed their real face. Instead of listening to the grievances of the protesting farmers, this anti-farmer government has chosen to thrash and detain them and even manhandled women and the old.”

At present the party is surrounded by the grapevine about it rejoining hands with the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year. It is presently having an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

On Monday senior party leader Maheshinder Singh Grewal came out with a statement expressing ‘surprise at the repeated assertions of the BJP that it would not ally with the former when no such desire had been echoed by the SAD’.

Grewal said, “The SAD is allied with the BSP in Punjab. The alliance is doing well. There is no proposal to have a truck with any other party, including the BJP. The SAD has never talked about any future alliance with the BJP and the latter should stop speculating on this issue on an everyday basis.”

He reminded the BJP that the SAD had broken its alliance with the saffron party on a matter of principle when the former betrayed the ‘annadaata’ by forcing through the three black laws on agriculture in parliament without any discussion with its alliance partner or the stakeholders – the farmers.

“Subsequently the BJP has taken one decision after another to the detriment of both Punjab and the Sikh community which has resulted in a sense of disquiet amongst Punjabis,” he asserted.

He said prime among these included the breaking of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) by creating a separate Gurdwara Committee for Haryana besides interfering in the SGPC elections.

He said the BJP led central government has also gone back on the solemn commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev that all Bandi Singhs would be released. “This has caused anguish in the Sikh community,” he said.

Grewal said besides this the BJP led central government had undermined the federal structure on several counts.

Both the Akalis and the INLD stand at an important junction of India’s political trajectory at this point of time fighting their own battles. While regional parties in several states are calling the shots, these former political powerhouses are trying to regain ground.

Cover Phtogoraph - ANI file photo