With two years to go for assembly polls in Haryana, there’s a battle for the leadership of the party 

In the race for Haryana Congress president are former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the current state president Ashok Tanwar. There is no love lost between the two and their mutual enmity is publicly known. Tanwar became president of the party in February 2014 and his three-year term ended early this year. Hooda has been eyeing the post since has built enough pressure within the party to be noticed.

On Sunday, Hooda finished a round of six farmer rallies or kisan panchayats across the state and Tanwar sat on a three-day fast in Karnal last month to highlight the plight of farmers. Tanwar’s “satyagraha” in Karnal was planned within days of the former chief minister announcing his state-wide rallies. Hooda’s rallies have drawn huge crowds and it is clear that he is projecting himself as the only popular leader the Congress has in the state. Tanwar however, denied the possibility of him being replaced.

“The party high command has no plans to change the guard in Haryana. These things are just spread by those in the party who want to gather a sense of importance for themselves,” Tanwar said.

Tanwar represents the Dalit face of the Congress in the state, while Hooda represents the dominant Jats. Considered to be close to party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Tanwar became an MP in 2009, but lost in 2014. Though Haryana’s politics has traditionally revolved around Jats, Tanwar is vying for the chief minister’s post in the next elections, say his aides.

But it will not be easy for Tanwar. Within the party, Hooda’s position is stronger than Tanwar. Hooda has the support of 13 MLAs, out of the 17 elected in the party’s abysmal show during the last assembly elections in 2014. The Bishnoi couple—Kuldeep and wife Renuka—who merged their party Haryana Janhit Congress with the Congress last year are non-aligned.  The Congress legislative party’s head, Kiran Chaudhary, is certainly not with Hooda, but her support for Tanwar can’t be taken for granted.

What goes against Hooda is that his image has taken a beating following the registration of a CBI case against him in April this year for the re-allotment of a piece of land in Panchkula. He was also grilled by the CBI for hours in May for his alleged role in the Manesar land deal and Panchkula industrial plots allotment, the two other cases which the CBI is investigating.

Relations between the two have only worsened over the past two years. Things came to a head in October 2016 when their supporters clashed while waiting to receive Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, leaving Tanwar injured. While Tanwar and Chaudhary blamed Hooda for the clash, Hooda and 12 other MLAs demanded Tanwar’s removal. Tanwar’s supporters protested against Hooda across the stateburning his effigies.

The infighting was evident again during the election of the state Youth Congress chief with both Hooda and Tanwar reportedly supporting different candidates. Interestingly, on the official website of the party, which seems to be under Tanwar’s control, uncharitable news items about Hooda are posted, including the one about his CBI case.

Tanwar is in the process of re-building the party’s structure at the district and block level. The Hooda camp says that they are not being taken into confidence over the appointments. They also allege that ‘fake members’ have been added to the party by Tanwar’s supporters to become eligible for the positions which are to be doled out to his own men. The Tanwar camp, on the other hand, accuses Hooda and his MLAs of not cooperating with him.

Hooda and his MLAs bank on their loyal cadres for support and Hooda’s successful rallies exemplify that. With Tanwar now putting in place a formal structure of his loyalists, it is only a matter of time that the party faces a divide in the state.

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