New Delhi: The Congress Saturday expelled its Haryana legislator Kuldeep Bishnoi from all party positions, a day after he allegedly cross-voted in Friday’s Rajya Sabha elections, leading to the defeat of party candidate Ajay Maken.
Incidentally, the Congress’ communications department chief Randeep Surjewala, who had publicly disapproved of interim party president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to not appoint Bishnoi as head of the party’s Haryana unit, got a free pass to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan.
After Sonia had appointed Udai Bhan — a Bhupinder Hooda loyalist — to the post last month, Surjewala, a self-styled Rahul Gandhi loyalist, had publicly opposed the decision, saying that Bishnoi in his opinion would have made the “best” Haryana Congress president.
Yet, Surjewala — who lost the last two times he contested assembly polls — was given a safe seat in Rajasthan.
Congress functionaries claimed that Surjewala, a known Hooda detractor, didn’t want to risk contesting from Haryana, where he is considered a political lightweight. So, in Haryana, where the Congress has 31 MLAs — only just enough to win a Rajya Sabha seat — Rahul Gandhi fielded Ajay Maken, a leader from Delhi who is in charge of Rajasthan, while Surjewala, a Haryana leader, was nominated from Rajasthan.
“Had Surjewala contested from Haryana, his friend Kuldeep Bishnoi would have voted for him and not cross-voted,” a Haryana Congress leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Of the sixteen seats in the Upper House that went to polls across the four states of Karnataka, Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan Friday, the Congress managed to win just five, while its alliance partners in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and NCP, won one each. The BJP meanwhile won eight seats.
Also Read: BJP trumps Shiv Sena, NCP & Cong alliance in Maharashtra in RS polls, wins 3 of 6 seats
‘I know how to trample the snake’s hood’
Hours after he allegedly cross-voted, Kuldeep Bishnoi tweeted: “I know how to trample the snake’s hood. I will not run away from the jungle fearing snakes. Good morning.”
The Congress has expelled him from all party positions including that of special invitee to the party’s working committee, but not from primary membership.
On Friday, Bishnoi had cast a “conscience vote” in the Rajya Sabha polls, refusing to divulge who he had voted for. Congress leaders claimed that he had voted for independent candidate and media baron Kartikeya Sharma.
Given that an independent MLA had abstained and another (Congress) MLA’s vote was rejected, a candidate needed 2,934 (with each MLA’s first preference vote assigned the value of 100) to win. Maken could get only 2,900.
Kartikeya Sharma, with the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dushyant Chautala’s Jannanayak Janata Party (JJP) and independent MLAs, got 2966 votes, said Congress sources.
Both Maken and Sharma got first preference votes of 29 MLAs, but the former got no second preference vote while the latter did, taking Sharma past the requisite votes.
The search for the MLA whose ‘tick’ led to rejection of vote
Meanwhile, the Congress is trying to ascertain which MLA “ticked” and did not write the numerical 1 on the ballot slip, which resulted in the rejection of his or her vote. Party MLA Kiran Choudhury has categorically denied reports about her being the one who did so.
The MLAs were supposed to mark their first, second or third preference by writing the numerical 1, 2 or 3 against the names of three candidates mentioned on the ballot paper.
In the week prior to the elections, party satrap and former chief minister Bhupinder Hooda had gathered all party MLAs and corralled them at a Chhattisgarh resort where they were kept under strict watch in an apparent bid to thwart any attempt at horse-trading.
However, Kuldeep Bishnoi did not join his colleagues in their resort retreat. The Congress leadership was allegedly already keeping a close watch on him after his hour-long meeting with Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar last month, but this didn’t affect his friendship with Surjewala.
Surjewala’s nomination ‘absurd’
Former Congress spokesperson and political analyst Sanjay Jha called Surjewala’s nomination from Rajasthan “grotesque and absurd”.
“When you play politics without a long-term vision then it is also bad optics. Randeep Surjewala is contesting from Rajasthan because he will lose (in Haryana) as there will be cross-voting. This is a sign that at the end of the day, the high command has just chosen a bunch of names and said that they need to be accommodated,” Jha told ThePrint.
“The Congress does not have the numbers anymore to secure that many Rajya Sabha seats, so it does not have the bandwidth to accommodate as many of the Gandhis’ preferences and interests. Therefore they are struggling to balance those interests with local conditions on the ground,” he further said.
Jha added that Randeep Surjewala and Hooda “have problems”, so they “didn’t want to risk him (Surjewala) in Haryana”.
“But it looks very grotesque and absurd that Maken is fighting from Haryana and Surjewala from Rajasthan,” said the former party spokesperson.
Bishnoi’s meeting with Khattar, past differences with Congress
This is not the first time that Bishnoi has gone against the interests of the Congress. Son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, Kuldeep Bishnoi had left the Congress to join his father’s new party, the Haryana Janhit Congress, in 2007 following differences with Hooda who was then the chief minister. He was brought back into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi in 2016.
After Bhan’s appointment as Haryana Congress chief, Bishnoi was increasingly defiant of his party and even held a meeting with CM Manohar Lal Khattar in May. The JJP-BJP alliance is the Congress’ chief rival in Haryana.
After Friday’s vote, Khattar hailed Bishnoi, saying that Bishnoi’s vote showed that he “had faith in PM Modi’s policies”.
“He (Bishnoi) has voted openly after listening to his inner voice. I can say that he has faith in PM Modi’s policies and ideology. He didn’t even think what Congress party is going to do with him after this,” Khattar told reporters in Chandigarh.
ThePrint has also learnt that Bishnoi was seeking a meeting with Rahul Gandhi before the Rajya Sabha vote, but was not granted one. Earlier, while lobbying for PCC chief, he could only meet Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
Also Read: 3 states, thrice the trouble: Why Congress struggles won’t end in Punjab, Haryana & Rajasthan