New Delhi: Changes in Haryana Congress Wednesday signalled the return of the Sonia Gandhi-style of conflict management in the opposition party — that is, consensus-building, reward to loyalists, balance of power among satraps and space for democratic dissent.
The resolution of the stalemate in Haryana had her stamp all over it. Former chief minister Bhupinder Hooda, a Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist who was signalling his exasperation with the state of affairs in the Haryana Congress, has all but been given chief ministership if he ensures the party’s win in the elections later this year.
As the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader, he may have no role left in the assembly, whose last session ended in August, but he will be a member of the screening committee that recommends party tickets for candidates.
Although the committee is likely to be headed by an AICC general secretary and will comprise state Congress chief Kumari Selja and others, Hooda’s presence will ensure that most of his loyalists get tickets. They will throw their weight behind him for chief ministership in the event of the party winning the election.
As chairman of the election management team, Hooda will virtually run the party’s poll campaign.
Hooda’s detractors may take solace in the fact that one of them, Selja, has become the state Congress chief, but she is no match for him in terms of mass base and loyalty of party workers.
As a Dalit leader, however, she is expected to bring the community back into the Congress fold at a time when the BJP seems to have effected a polarisation of non-Jat votes in its favour.
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‘A fine balance’
Political analysts say Sonia has struck a fine balance and bought space to manoeuvre in case the Haryana unit is hit by infighting again.
“They are trying to strike a balance between the old guard and the young leaders,” said political analyst Zoya Hasan. “It is significant that they have appointed a Dalit woman (as state party chief) — it shows they’re trying to balance different interest groups.”
A Congress insider told ThePrint, “Both of Rahul’s picks — Ashok Tanwar, the outgoing state Congress chief, and Kiran Choudhary, the outgoing CLP leader — have been sidelined by the party.”
Another Haryana Congress leader said the high command under Sonia also managed to keep Hooda on his toes. “He wanted the post (Haryana Congress president) for his son or himself, but they have reminded him of his place.”
The Sonia style of accommodation and reward, blended with a hint of repudiation to signal the authority of the high command, was missing in the Congress for the past six-and-a-half years — since her son Rahul Gandhi became vice-president in January 2013.
Although his elevation as Congress president came in December 2017, Rahul started calling the shots in the party in his vice-presidential days. Unlike Sonia, Rahul was inflexible.
His appointee Ashok Tanwar was a miserable failure as Haryana Congress chief, with the party losing assembly, Lok Sabha and even municipal elections on his watch, but Rahul wouldn’t unseat the former Indian Youth Congress chief.
He didn’t empower Hooda, the only leader with pan-state appeal, even if it meant continuous factional fights and decimation of the Congress in the state.
In Uttar Pradesh, he didn’t remove state Congress chief Raj Babbar, his appointee, despite the party getting a drubbing in the assembly and the Lok Sabha elections.
Rahul didn’t replace Randeep Surjewala as the party’s communications head either, despite all-round acknowledgement of him being a “disaster”.
The former Congress president showed similar inflexibility and doggedness in defending his decisions in all spheres, no matter how wrong they turned out to be, be it the persistence with the allegations about the Rafale deal, or the politically-damaging swings to the Left in economics and the Right-Left seesaw in politics.
“It’s true his (Rahul’s) politics was marked by the my-way-or-highway approach while Soniaji believes in persuasion, in maintaining balance,” said a Congress leader, an AICC functionary who was sidelined during Rahul regime.
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