Big two in jail, questions over succession in INLD

The conviction of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) chief and former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala and his elder son and secretary general of the party, Ajay Singh Chautala, in a case pertaining to irregularities in recruitment of junior teachers, has created an uncertainty over the future of the party that had turned out to be regional power in the state's Jat-dominated political landscape.

Even as all eyes are set on January 22, the day the CBI court in Delhi is expected to pronounce the quantum of sentence, the political circles are speculating on Chautala's successor in the INLD, where even second rung leadership finds itself behind the bars.

78-year-old Chautala is a veteran Jat leader who wields political clout beyond the boundaries of his state and in recent times has been working to firm up a non-Congress, non-BJP third alternative at the Centre.

Chautala's younger son and MLA Abhay Singh Chautala gets irritated when asked about the case. "We will challenge this judgment but are waiting to see what happens on January 22," he says.

However, he desists from naming the official successor to Chautala. "We have a state president who takes care of the state affairs of the party. There is a 20-member political affairs committee of the party that takes decisions," he says before disconnecting the call.

Senior party leaders say that there is a sense of uncertainty in the party, but add that it is no surprise that the INLD has remained dominated by the former Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal's clan.

The INLD, led by Chautala, Devi Lal's son, is Haryana's main opposition party and regarded as the main challenger to the ruling Congress for next year's Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections.

However, the party leaders feel that the political legacy of 'Tau' Devi Lal, who was famous among the Haryana's three Lals — the two other being late Bansi Lal and late Bhajan Lal — has been sullied after the court verdict.

Being jailed for political reasons is not new for the Chautalas, but this is the first time that they have been put behind the bars on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery.

Chautala always appoints a state president but nationally the INLD's command remains in his own hands or with Ajay. The reins of the state unit are in the hands of Ashok Arora and prior to this in the hands of Sher Singh Badshami, who is also now housed in Tihar Jail.

Contacted, Arora, refused to name the person who will head the national unit of the party. However, he said that the INLD's main activities are in Haryana and "I take care of that." "On national level, collective decisions are taken," he added. Former Finance Minister Sampat Singh, who had quit the INLD, to join the Congress, believes INLD's dynastic tradition may turn out to be its undoing.

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