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Sign of Sonia-Rahul disagreement? Surjewala dissent on Haryana chief new challenge for Congress

Congress general secy says Kuldeep Bishnoi would have been the best state unit chief, days after Sonia chose Udai Bhan, leading to questions on whether his views are backed by Rahul.

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New Delhi: Congress general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala, a Rahul Gandhi confidant, publicly expressing his disagreement with party president Sonia Gandhi’s choice of Haryana unit chief has come as an embarrassment to the opposition party even as it signalled the beginning of a fresh round of internecine fighting.

While none of them was willing to speak on the record, many Congress functionaries are wondering if Surjewala had the backing of Rahul Gandhi in virtually disapproving of his mother’s decision.

At a news conference Sunday, Surjewala said Adampur MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi was a very capable and talented person, and the Congress needed leaders like him.

“Kuldeep Bishnoi would have been the best state unit president, but it is the party’s decision who will be the state unit chief,” he said, adding that the party high command had been in talks with Bishnoi.

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 then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. He was brought back into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi in 2016.

Last Wednesday, Sonia replaced Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja with Dalit leader and former MLA Udai Bhan, considered a loyalist of former chief minister Hooda. It is being seen as her attempt to give Hooda, the only Congress leader with a pan-Haryana mass base, full charge of a state that will go to the polls in 2024.

However, Udai Bhan’s appointment came as a disappointment to Bishnoi, who is known to be a Hooda-baiter. Surjewala, another aspirant, appears to have joined forces with Bishnoi to target Hooda.

Surjewala’s claim to the post suffered a setback after he lost the Jind assembly bypoll in January 2019 and then went on to lose his home constituency, Kaithal, nine months later in the assembly polls. His successive electoral defeats didn’t, however, affect his equations with Rahul Gandhi who continued to promote him in organisational matters.

The Haryana Congress has been witnessing intense infighting for the past eight years, which resulted in the party’s successive electoral defeats since 2014. In early 2014, Rahul Gandhi was instrumental in installing former Youth Congress leader Ashok Tanwar as Haryana Congress president. Tanwar had run-ins with Hooda all through his five-and-a-half year tenure, as he allegedly sought to undermine the former CM. Tanwar later joined the Trinamool Congress, and is now an Aam Aadmi Party leader.

Tanwar’s successor Selja also followed in his footsteps as she sought to keep Hooda out of organisational affairs. What, however, went in favour of Hooda in the latest organisational revamp was the way he kept holding anti-government rallies and programmes with impressive gatherings, without any support from the Tanwar-led and then Selja-led state units.


Also Read: ‘Gandhi problem’: Why Prashant Kishor’s talks with Congress to revive the party crashed


I am angry too, says Bishnoi

Shortly after Bhan’s appointment, Bishnoi took to Twitter to say that he was moved by the messages people had sent to him on social media expressing support, adding that “like you, I too am very angry”. However, he requested his followers not to take any steps till he speaks to Rahul Gandhi.

Since then, Bishnoi has been posting and retweeting cryptic messages on his Twitter timeline. One of them read: “I will sink a bit, but I will come afloat again. Oh life, just you see, I will win again.”

He has also been retweeting party workers’ tweets, one of which said: “If the enemy likes a war cry, then we like a challenge.”

Contacted by ThePrint over the phone, Bishnoi said he did not want to discuss the matter further.

No rift between us, says Bhan

The Congress’s new Haryana unit chief, Udai Bhan, rubbished all rumours of a rift between him and Bishnoi. He told ThePrint that Bishnoi was a senior leader in the state, and if he had any grievances, he should speak to Rahul Gandhi as that was his right.

“He has neither said anything against me nor tweeted about me. He has said he would speak to Rahul Gandhi, so everyone should wait for that. There is absolutely no animosity among us. I have known his family for a very long time,” he added.

The Congress’, Haryana unit has been witness to much infighting. In July 2021, 22 of the 31 Haryana Congress MLAs had reached Delhi seeking a change of guard and a bigger role for Hooda, when Selja was state unit chief. According to the MLAs, the organisation was in shambles and the only mass leader the party had in the state was Hooda.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


Also Read: List corrupt officials, reach more voters — BJP gen secy Santhosh’s prescription for Haryana


 

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