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Lesson for Cong in Haryana RS fiasco: Don't ignore ground realities

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 June 2016, 22:43 IST
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The embarrassment

  • The Congress high command wanted its 14 MLAs to support INLD-backed RK Anand in Haryana RS poll
  • Congress MLAs\' votes were declared invalid, due to the use of the incorrect ink

The lesson

  • Observers and party insiders say the high command must learn not to ignore ground realities in states
  • The Congress and INLD have been arch-rivals for over 25 years now, and have the same (Jat) voter base

More in the story

  • How the Congress irked the INLD leadership
  • How the INLD has responded by targeting Hooda

The Rajya Sabha poll fiasco in Haryana, where 14 Congress MLAs' votes for INLD-backed candidate RK Anand were declared invalid, is still shrouded in mystery. The fiasco resulted in media baron Subhash Chandra, an independent candidate backed by the BJP, being elected to the upper house.

Fingers are being pointed at former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, but the charges are yet to be proven. Among the votes declared invalid was that of Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, who had allegedly showed his vote to another party leader, Kiran Chaudhary.

Also read - Rajya Sabha polls: Congress red-faced in Haryana, rest as expected

But one thing is for sure - the episode carries a strong message for the Congress party's central leadership. The high command needs to ponder that if indeed the MLAs turned rebellious and used the wrong ink to mark their choice, as is alleged, what were the reasons behind this?

Observers say that the developments in Haryana give a clear message - that the Congress must do away with the high command culture.

Theories floating about

Several theories continue to do the rounds about the fiasco.

One of them says that the INLD withdrew support from Anand after he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and promised not to work against the interests of the party.

The second, of course, is that this was an act of rebellion by Hooda, who has a firm grip on the Congress MLAs.

The third theory is an alleged conspiracy by the BJP to switch the pen used for voting.

On the issue, Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh said: "You need to understand that we are living in 2016. Whether it is a blue pen or a black pen or a green one, what difference does it make till the tick is marked at the correct place?"

It is being said that this Rajya Sabha poll might prove to be a trendsetter in Indian politics. After all, Haryana is known to set political trends - this was the state that gave the country the concept of "Aaya Ram gaya Ram" in political horse-trading.

Wrong message

Ever since the poll results were declared, a blame game is on between the Congress and the INLD, holding the other responsible for the fiasco. Charges continue to fly amid demands for a re-poll, and a probe into an alleged conspiracy by the ruling BJP.

However, it must be considered that the Congress and the INLD have been arch rivals since the latter party was born. What made the central leadership assume that the two could join hands to defeat the BJP-backed candidate, especially since the BJP has only recently emerged as a serious player in the state?

A Congress insider told Catch: "The Congress and the INLD have been locked in a two-and-a-half decade-long battle for supremacy in the Jat heartland. It would be like the Congress and the Akalis joining hands in Punjab to defeat an AAP candidate."

Simply put, the Congress supporting an INLD-backed candidate would've sent the wrong message at the ground level, and local leaders could lose their very identities.

Targeting the patriarch

The tussle between the Congress and the INLD intensified when INLD chief and former CM Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Singh were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in 2013 in a teachers' recruitment scam. Although the case was lodged by victims, the Congress had backed the agitators.

Chautala and 53 others were charged in connection with the appointment of 3,216 junior basic teachers during 1999-2000. Chautala was found guilty of illegally recruiting over 3,000 unqualified teachers and a CBI probe had been ordered in the matter by the Supreme Court. His sentence was upheld by the Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court.

The Chautala family is in the dock in cases of disproportionate assets registered by the CBI against Chautala and his two sons Ajay and Abhay, on a complaint by Haryana Congress leader Shamsher Singh Surjewala.

The agency had charge-sheeted Chautala in 2010, indicting him for allegedly possessing assets worth Rs 6.09 crore, far exceeding his legal income between 1993 and 2006. Two similar cases are also going on against Ajay and Abhay.

"Does the Congress high command expect the INLD to be warm towards their party when it was the INLD patriarch being targeted? Who can deny that the movement was launched by Surjewala in this case? The Congress leaders had got booklets published, carrying pictures of Chautala properties, and had gone to the masses," said a senior media person who has been an observer of Haryana politics for two decades.

Training guns on Hooda

The INLD has also been paying back the Congress leadership in the state in the same coin. It has been particularly targeting Jat heavyweight Hooda.

Its leaders have been levelling allegations against Hooda that led to the CBI recently booking him, along with 13 others, for 'irregular' allocation of 14 industrial plots in Panchkula in 2012.

This followed the state vigilance bureau registering a case of cheating and corruption against Hooda, along with four officials, for allegedly re-allotting a plot to Associated Journals Limited (AJL) in Panchkula in 2005. AJL was reportedly then the publisher of The National Herald newspaper, closely linked to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly and INLD leader Abhay Chautala had written to CM Manohar Lal Khattar, demanding the registration of a criminal case against Hooda on charges of a criminal breach of trust, embezzlement, forgery, corruption and criminal conspiracy for two alleged land scams in Gurgaon and Sonepat.

He had sought another case against Hooda for allegedly depriving the farmers of their precious ancestral land to benefit builders with an ulterior motive, in the context of a Supreme Court judgement on 13 May. The apex court judgement has reportedly given a huge relief to farmers and landowners, while quashing the 'illegal' and 'deceptive' licencing of 280 acres of land in Rohtak in 2006 to a real estate firm.

Sources say that the INLD leadership had also kept quiet when the Khattar government had decided to withdraw facilities, including rent-free accommodation and staff, provided to ex-chief ministers of the state.

High command's myopia

With this kind of relationship prevailing between the two rivals, expecting them to come together for one Rajya Sabha seat was a far-fetched dream for the central leadership of the Congress.

"The whole problem is that the central leadership never realises the situation on the ground. The Rajya Sabha poll has made the party a laughing stock across the country," said the Congress insider.

Political commentator Balwant Takshak said since the two parties have a single vote bank, it was myopic to even assume that their grassroot leaders could come together.

"The party high command was just guided by a faction of the Congress that convinced it that it was necessary to join hands with INLD to check the BJP. The most ironic part is that the high command listened to those who do not have a voter base, while pressurising those (Hooda in particular) who have a strong mass base," Takshak said.

More in Catch - Congress smells conspiracy in Haryana setback, likely to seek re-poll for Rajya Sabha seats

Congress delegation to meet Election Commissioner for Rajya Sabha Haryana re-poll

First published: 14 June 2016, 22:43 IST
 
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