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A spurned satrap & burning egos — warning signs Congress ignored in Haryana for 5 yrs

Infighting among top leaders of the Haryana unit and their prestige battles have cost the Congress massively.

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Chandigarh: Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, a key aide of interim party chief Sonia Gandhi, was heard this week rebuking former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda over the party’s condition in the state ahead of the 21 October assembly election.

But if the brass had paid close attention over the past five years, after the Congress was first routed by the BJP in 2014, it would not have been surprised. The signs were all there.

Hooda, who has a larger mass base in the state than any of his rivals, was reduced to the role of an MLA. Amid relentless and reckless infighting, the state Congress was reduced to a bunch of factions doing their best to run each other down.

Such was the situation that it is no less than a miracle that the central Congress leadership managed to release a list of candidates — although at the eleventh hour — that not only accommodates all groups but all individual bigwigs.

The relentless infighting

The most defeating aspect of the infighting within the Congress has been the leaders’ reluctance to hide it.

Ashok Tanwar, a Dalit leader who resigned Saturday, was then Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s personal pick as state Haryana chief, a responsibility he took on in 2014.

He made no bones about his dislike for Bhupinder Singh Hooda and, as the two fought incessantly, the party’s cadre was divided down to the booths.

Add to this mix MLA Kiran Chaudhary, who is the daughter-in-law of former chief minister Bansi Lal and another Hooda baiter.

She was made the leader of the Congress Legislative Party in Haryana even though she is not known to have a mass base beyond her constituency, Tosham, and Chaudhary could hardly do anything to bolster the party’s prospects.

All the while, the brass was tone deaf to Hooda’s repeated entreaties to put him back at the helm, with the Congress headquarters in Delhi virtually putting all their eggs in Tanwar’s basket.

However, Hooda’s loyalists, comprising the majority of the party’s MLAs, stayed with him, and all attempts made by Tanwar to strengthen the party came a cropper.

In early 2018, Gandhi made a dramatic attempt to pull the Haryana Congress out of the woods by projecting his right-hand man, Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala, as the candidate for the Jind assembly by-election.

It was a high-decibel election that was then seen as a test for Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s hold over the state. However, Surjewala’s campaign is said to have been undermined by Hooda loyalists who thought a victory would make him a rival chief ministerial candidate.

While Tanwar went all out to support Surjewala, Hooda stayed away from the campaign. After a humiliating defeat, Surjewala publicly hinted that Hooda rocked his boat.

In the Lok Sabha elections this April-May, the Congress failed to even retain the one seat it won in Haryana in 2014, as each of the warring leaders fought the polls as an island.

Eventually, Hooda lost Sonepat, his son Deepender lost his Rohtak seat, Kiran Chaudhary’s daughter Shruti lost from Mahendergarh, and Tanwar was defeated from Sirsa.

Former Union minister Kumari Selja, who is now state party chief, lost from Ambala. The party had touched its nadir in the state.


Also read: Price hike, joblessness, slow economy. Yet, it’s advantage BJP in Maharashtra & Haryana


Tanwar’s prestige battle

When Ashok Tanwar refused to give up his position as state chief after the party’s poor performance in the elections, and with the assembly polls just months away, Bhupinder Singh Hooda decided to do something drastic.

Through a huge show of strength last month at his ‘Maha-parivartan rally’ in Rohtak, he sent a less-than-subtle sign to the Delhi high-command that he would not hesitate to quit the party if his leadership was not acknowledged. The move worked. The central leadership sent Tanwar packing, replacing him with Kumari Selja, and made Hooda the chief of the CLP as well as the party’s election management committee.

The Congress’ ticket distribution for the assembly polls marks a long overdue attempt by the party leadership to bring the entire flock together. All the factions with the sole exception of Tanwar’s were accommodated, with an aim to ensure that individual interests are replaced by collective efforts.

Apart from Tanwar, who staged a protest outside Sonia Gandhi’s house at 10 Janpath in the national capital this week, there has not been a peep from any of the prominent warring groups about the tickets. Tanwar’s attempt to incite rebellion by alleging that party tickets were sold for crores found no supporters within the Congress.

‘Little room for dissidence’

All the 15 MLAs who had won the 2014 assembly elections in the state have been repeated on their seats, to acknowledge their victory in the face of the ‘Modi wave’.

Top leaders who wanted tickets for themselves or their kin and aides have been taken care of too. These include Kuldeep Bishnoi, Chander Mohan, Kuldeep Sharma, Harmohinder Singh Chattha, and Ajay Singh Yadav.

Chandigarh-based political scientist Kanwalpreet Kaur said the list put forth by the party “leaves very little room for dissidence”.

“BJP is confident that its first electoral test after the scrapping of Article 370 is going to be a cakewalk in Haryana, but assembly elections are very different from the Lok Sabha polls. Personality of new candidates and report card of repeat candidates weighs more than anything else,” she said.

“Local factors will have a bearing on the voters mind. The Congress has… put forth a list that leaves very little room for dissidence. The party needs to build on this and candidates should now push one another instead of pulling each other down.”

While keeping the party united seems to have been the primary motivation behind ticket-distribution this poll season, winnability hasn’t exactly been given a backseat.

All Congress candidates who came second in the 2014 assembly polls and lost with a margin of less than 5,000 votes have been repeated. Candidates who lost with huge margins have been replaced.

Taking a leaf from the BJP’s election book, the Congress has liberally distributed tickets to defectors from other parties, with former INLD and BSP leaders fielded from at least nine seats.

The Congress has done today what it ought to have five years ago. Commendable as this eleventh-hour attempt at self-rescue is, but it’s anybody’s guess whether it will make a substantial difference.


Also read: TikTok star Sonali Phogat gets BJP ticket to take on 3-time Haryana MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Whatever positives one can see in the Haryana ticket distribution can all be attributed to Sonia . One can also see that Rahul has been a black spot on every Congress unit he has touched , bringing in factionalists and losers with an uncanny instinct.

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