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Why the Congress needs to put its house in order in Haryana without delay

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 2 May 2017, 8:48 IST
(File photo)

The time for the Congress leadership in Haryana to put its house in order has come, particularly as the party continues to grapple with internal squabble between various factions.

More so, the party needs to pull up its socks simply because its political rivals – the BJP and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) – have got a firm footing in the state and clear agendas keeping the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and assembly polls in mind.

Factionalism at its peak

Factionalism within the party is at its peak with primarily two groups working against each other. Former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda leads the first camp and state party president Ashok Tanwar and the Congress Legislative Party leader (CLP) Kiran Chaudhary the second.

Loyalists from both groups keep approaching the party high command and levelling allegations each other. For a long time now, the party high command has preferred maintaining a status quo on the developments within its ranks but party insiders feel that it is time for some firm decisions.

“Ever since party president Sonia Gandhi has been out of picture because of her ill health, the decision making has gone for a toss. Such a scenario cannot be allowed to continue as the rank and file of the party in the district, block and village levels stands thoroughly confused. You cannot imagine going into a poll battle with is cadre that is low on morale and is confused,” said a party insider.

The loyalists of Hooda have been demanding that Tanwar be removed and that Hooda be made the face of the party in the state. They have also been emboldened by the victory of the party led by Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab and the model of having a strong regional face to lead the party in the electoral battle instead of someone being imposed by the party high command at the last moment.

There is no second view on the fact that Hooda stands as the most prominent Jat leader in the party and the community is a deciding factor in Haryana politics. Another factor at work in favour of Hooda is that majority of the 17 Congress MLAs in the state assembly are his loyalists.

The feud

This has led to a piquant scenario where the CLP leader in the assembly stands bereft of any support. This was visible on the eve of the last state assembly session when as many as 13 of the 17 party MLAs had gone on to boycott the CLP meeting leaving Kiran Chaudhary red faced. The MLAs were reportedly upset over a case being registered against Hooda in New Delhi following an assault on Tanwar at a party event.

Whatever the reason, this is not a happy scenario for the party in the state that was once a Congress citadel with leaders like Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and later Hooda in the driving seat.

Apart from the 13 Hooda loyalists out of total 17, two of the remaining MLAs are Kuldeep Bishnoi and Renuka Bishnoi who merged their Haryana Janhit Congress party with the Congress last year.

This literally leaves hardly any support base for the CLP leader among the elected MLAs. The 13 MLAs had reportedly said that they will not be attending any meeting called by Chaudhary or Tanwar and had even threatened to resign.

Sources in the Hooda camp say that the Sushil Kumar Shinde committee set up by the All India Congress Committee to probe the assault on Tanwar and the registration of a case against Hooda has given a clean chit to the latter. The party has put the committee report under the wraps to prevent further feud.

Hooda supporters say that they hope Tanwar along with Chaudhary as the CLP would be removed very soon. They say that the change will come after the ongoing shuffling at the top level in the party is over.

Kamal Nath’s role

Meanwhile, there are also reports appearing in the media about the chances of state in-charge Kamal Nath also being replaced. Many party functionaries are of the opinion that Nath is more interested in political developments in his native state of Madhya Pradesh and is not too keen on Haryana.

They point out that in the last one year, he has hardly come to the state to interact with the party workers at the ground level. They also point to lack of accessibility to Nath.

“The party in-charge of the state should be someone from the organisational ranks who has a good knowledge of the intricacies of the state. A former high profile minister is not the right choice. He should be a person who can and is easily available to answer all the questions from the smallest of party workers,” said a party functionary. The name of Kumari Selja, a former union minister from Haryana, is doing the rounds for replacing Nath along with that of Kuldeep Bishnoi.

While there are a large number of Congressmen who feel that Nath will not be replaced, there are some who do not see Bishnoi as his replacement as his clout is confined only to Hisar and Hansi areas now.

Power politics

Amidst this scenario, Tanwar continues to function as the state chief. “I am carrying on with my work. Both Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi have shown faith in me and have given me the responsibility that I am trying to fulfill. My aim is to work in co-ordination with everyone to ensure the Congress victory in 2019 polls,” said Tanwar.

He said that he does not believe in complaining about things to the party high command but to execute the job given to him.

People close to Tanwar say that he is a good organiser and has proved himself during his stint as the president of both the student wing of the party the NSUI as well as the Indian Youth Congress. Being only 41-years-old too is an asset and sources say that he also has the backing of Rahul Gandhi.

Given the opposition that he has been facing from within his party it comes as a surprise that he has managed to be in the saddle for over three years. He is determined not to throw in the towel.

One of his supporters said, “This is the first time that people are seeing that the state president is independent and can use his powers. His tenure is like that of a tongue surrounded by teeth on all the sides. But this is just Haryana. He has coped with a much bigger and stronger opposition at the national level,” said one of his supporters. He is now carrying on with a membership drive in the party.

Tanwar has plans to launch statewide protests after the wheat harvest against the BJP government led by Manohar Lal Khattar for going back on its promises made ahead of the last assembly polls. It remains to be seen whether the Hooda camp joins him in the initiative or not and can the Centre work out a truce between the two factions.

First published: 1 May 2017, 20:06 IST