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Divided they fall: why the Congress is in disarray in Haryana

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 24 September 2016, 18:24 IST

While the Congress remains in disarray in Haryana, its rivals are marking their presence among the voters with public programmes. The Congress is yet to chalk out a state-level campaign or programme with which to approach the masses. Although its leaders are taking up issues at the grassroots level, its heavyweight presence in the state politics has taken a beating over the last few months.

Congress leaders claim they will come out with a state-level campaign after the festive season, leaving the field open to the ruling BJP and the opposition Indian National Lok Dal to exploit.

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For the last month or so, the INLD has been engaged in a massive public outreach programme in the name of garnering support for its rally on 25 September to mark the 103rd birth anniversary of its founder Devi Lal. Senior party leaders, from Leader of the Opposition Abhay Chautala and Hisar MP Dushyant Chautala to those at the lower rung, have toured the interiors of the state extensively, inviting the people to the rally and discussing their issues. Political observers point out that this programme is essentially a mass contact drive.

On the other side, the BJP is consolidating its base as its sister Hindutva outfits relentlessly implement their Saffronisation agenda, not least in the form of cow protection vigilantism. The party is also trying to reach out to sections of the electorate, particularly the Jats, who have maintained their distance from it until now.

Guess how different Congress factions are identified at public events? From the colour of their turbans

The observers point out that in the last month alone, the BJP has held two major rallies in the Jat heartland. To the first rally in Jind, the party brought its heavyweights, including national president Amit Shah and union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Birender Singh, to address the masses. At the second rally, held at Dadri last week, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar announced the decision to make Dadri the 22nd district of Haryana. He also played up the developmental projects, together worth about Rs 112 crore, that have been completed in the Dadri assembly segment during the two years of his rule, and inaugurated nine more projects, worth about Rs 45 crore, on the day.

Making inroads

Khattar recalled that Dadri was "treated as a district" back when he looked after the affairs of the RSS in the area in the early 1990s. "After taking reigns of the administration, it is a matter of great pleasure for me to declare Dadri as the 22nd district of Haryana in keeping with the demand and aspirations of the people. It is difficult to understand why when the previous parties in power created Panchkula, Yamunanagar and Palwal districts, they didn't make Dadri a district," he said.

The observers say the BJP is now trying to make inroads into the significant Jat votebank of central and southern Haryana that has traditionally supported the Congress and the INLD. Even in the last assembly election which brought the BJP to power in the state for the first time, the BJP won seats mostly in areas with sizable non-Jat populations.

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All this means that the Congress must urgently work out a plan to reach out to the masses, the observers point out. That, however, cannot be achieved as long as the party remains riven with infighting between rival groups - one led by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the other by state Congress chief president Ashok Tanwar and Congress Legislative Party leader Kiran Chaudhary.

Ashok Tanwar says he and Bhupinder Hooda will jointly organise programmes if need be. Possible?

It was recently pointed out to the party's state in-charge Kamal Nath that the two groups can be identified at public functions from the different colours of their turbans alone. Even after the recent Jat reservation stir, which left a trail of devastation in its wake, the Congress' outreach programme to the people was carried out by leaders individually and not by the party as one cohesive unit.

The problem persists even now. While the party's leaders have been raising issues of saffronisation and cow vigilantism, such efforts are visible only at the district and block levels as individual initiatives and not as a statewide Congress programme.

No way forward

After taking over as the party's state in-charge in June, Kamal Nath had proposed reconstitution of the district and block Congress committees over the following six months after "due consultations" with local leaders. The party's frontal organisations like the Sewa Dal and others were also to be revamped and given more responsibility so they could play a "more active role" in the growth of the party. But party insiders say that things have not moved ahead at the desired pace.

Tanwar told Catch: "We will come out with bigger programmes after the festive season. We are going slow because this is the harvest and procurement season for paddy and bajra. The district committees will be reconstituted and the ones at the block level would follow." He claimed that the state Congress was united and that he and Hooda would jointly organise programmes if need be.

The claim appears far from the reality. Hooda is currently engaged in a battle for his image with the ruling BJP which has tried to corner him by registering a series of cases against him, including of corruption.

The rival Congress factions are also at loggerheads over the issue of former legislators and MPs rejoining the party. The latest speculation is over former Union minister Venod Sharma. Once a close associate of Hooda, Sharma had contested the last assembly election after floating the Haryana Jan Chetna Party.

A recent meeting between Hooda and Sharma in Delhi has led to speculation about his return to the Congress. Tanwar, however, has made it clear that his return would need the approval of no less an authority than Sonia Gandhi. "It is an established practice in the Congress that the re-entry of former MPs and MLAs is facilitated after All India Congress Chief chief's concurrence," Tanwar has said.

In the past few months, several former MLAs have joined the Congress at functions where Tanwar was conspicuously absent. While Hooda facilitated the entry of two Ashok Kashyap and BL Saini from the INLD, Rajya Sabha member Kumari Selja was instrumental in getting former BJP legislator Jasbir Malour into the party fold.

On the other hand, when the Kuldeep Bishnoi-led Haryana Janhit Congress merged with the Congress earlier this year, Hooda was among the prominent leaders who were absent.

The Congress doesn't have a choice but to stand united to make a comeback in Haryana. As of now though, a united Congress seems a remote possibility.

Also Read: Daggers out in Haryana Congress, infighting adds to Kamal Nath's woes

First published: 24 September 2016, 18:24 IST