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Rajya Sabha woes galore for the Congress

January 29, 2014 02:39 IST

Be it Assam, Haryana or Delhi, the Congress is facing one crisis after another regarding its Rajya Sabha nominations, reports Renu Mittal.

In the wake of the Congress leadership’s decision to nominate ‘Raja of Amethi’ Sanjay Singh to Rajya Sabha from Assam, the party is likely to lose one Upper House seat from the state with the divided opposition coming together and fielding a joint candidate against him.

The opposition’s decision was a result of the huge uproar in “Hindi sensitive” Assam over the Congress’ nod for the Sulantpur MP.

However, after the protests and the revolt, the Congress party tweaked its Assam strategy on Monday morning.

While earlier Sanjay Singh was its number 1 candidate, the second seat was supposed to be given to its ally Bodo People’s Front and the third to Pradesh Congress Committee president Bhuvaneshwar Kalitha. But the party changed its strategy after the divided opposition came together. Now Kalitha has been made the number 1 candidate, followed by Sanjay Singh and the BPF candidate.

The Congress has 86 votes (43 each) for the first Rajya Sabha two seats and a surplus to manage the third seat. But if the alliance partner loses, the Congress would be able to say its candidates have not lost. The Bodo party was earlier with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.

For the moment the Asom Gana Parishad, the BJP and the Trinamool Congress have come together against Sanjay Singh. But with the BPF being a local party, the sentiment is not against them and they may still be able to pull off a surprise and beat the combined opposition candidate Haider Hussain.

Congress leaders say that the decision to field Singh has sent all the wrong signals in Uttar Pradesh -- that party vice president Rahul Gandhi can be made to work under pressure. It also reinforces the perception that he is insecure in his bastion Amethi.

In Haryana, the Congress has fielded senior leader and Union minister Kumari Selja for Rajya Sabha who has already put in her papers in the government. The Dalit leader is considered to be close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and her nomination is seen as a move to consolidate the Dalit community which has been targeted by the powerful Jats in Haryana.

It is also learnt that Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has asked that his loyalist Phool Chand Mulana, the Pradesh Congress Committee president, be allowed to continue as a quid pro quo for supporting Selja in the Rajya Sabha.

The northern state has two main groups within the ruling Congress -- one headed by Hooda and Selja each. The CM has done everything to ensure that Selja does not get her supporters in prominent positions.

The party’s state election commission was formed on Tuesday under Mulana, and this has strengthened the impression that he may continue as the PCC president, even though Rahul Gandhi had called him a ‘zero’ in a recent meeting. But Hooda has ensured he continues as the PCC president, despite strong opposition from the Selja-led faction.

Kumari Selja represents Ambala in the Lok Sabha, and while the Congress had won 9 out of 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, her seat is now vacant. So there would be pressure on her to win the seat back for the Congress even though she would not be contesting.

The Gurgaon seat is also vacant with the sitting MP Rao Inderjit Singh having left the party. Even Sonepat MP Jitender Malik has expressed his disinclination to contest saying he would prefer to fight the Vidhan Sabha election.

The party wanted former MP Jai Prakash to contest again from Hissar after he was defeated by Haryana Janhit Congress’ Kuldeep Bishnoi in 2009, but he has shown disinterest in these troubled times.

The Congress leaders are also keeping a close watch on Karnal where three-time sitting MP Arvind Sharma is said to be in touch with BJP chief Rajnath Singh. Earlier Sharma tried for a ticket from the Aam Aadmi Party but they refused to entertain him on the grounds that he has been a close associate of controversial god man Chandraswamy.

It is learnt that the name of former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was doing the rounds from many states, but the leadership finally decided against bringing her to the Rajya Sabha on two counts: the first was the threat of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal that if she is given a Rajya Sabha berth, he would make public the documents against her regarding various scams of her government. One leader said that the documents had been sent to 10 Janpath.

The second was that the leadership avoided to send out a negative message by a giving a backdoor Rajya Sabha entry to a recently defeated candidate.

It is, however, a fact that Gandhi family loyalists have been adjusted in the Rajya Sabha and this, say some Congress leaders, have conveyed the message that the party has conceded defeat even before the elections.

While popular wisdom would have been that those who had a good chance of winning the election -- like Digvijaya Singh -- should have been kept for the Lok Sabha and not brought into the Rajya Sabha.

It is also learnt that the party leadership offered Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde a Rajya Sabha berth from Maharashtra -- something that the leader declined and showed his inclination to contest the Lok Sabha elections instead.

Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi with vice president Rahul Gandhi

Photograph: Reuters

Renu Mittal in New Delhi