With several Congress leaders pushing for Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s removal, the Congress is finding it difficult to keep its flock together in the poll-bound state. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports.
The Congress is likely to witness an exodus from its ranks in Haryana ahead of the assembly elections.
The party’s Haryana unit has been facing severe infighting for over two years. But this factionalism intensified after the Lok Sabha elections when the Congress managed to win only one seat in the state.
Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has been in the line of fire, with his detractors pushing for his removal. They say that if Hooda stays on the party would meet the same fate in the assembly polls as it faced in the Lok Sabha elections. Former minister Kumari Selja was among the first senior Congress leaders to raise the banner of revolt against Hooda.
This disenchantment peaked after Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi made it known that a leadership change on election-eve would serve no purpose.
The Congress had suffered its first blow before the Lok Sabha elections when sitting Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit Singh left and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is now a minister in the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government.
Venod Sharma, Hooda’s confidant and a minister in his cabinet, also deserted him before the general election.
On Sunday, six-term MLA Ajay Singh Yadav too quit the Hooda ministry. Stating that he had no option but to quit as power minister, Yadav insisted that he remained a loyal soldier of the Congress party.
As assembly elections draw close and it becomes increasingly clear that the Congress party’s fortunes have not improved over the past two months, a number of state leaders and workers are knocking on BJP’s doors.
On Saturday, former Congress legislator Major Nirpendra Sangwan and another ex-MLA Sukhbir Parmaana joined the saffron party. Like the other dissidents, Sangwan, who represented Dadri constituency in 2004, admitted that he had left the Congress because of Hooda. “Haryana Congress has been converted into Hooda Congress,” he said on joining the BJP.
While there is talk that another Hooda minister, Kiran Choudhary, is also planning to jump ship, former finance minister of Haryana and Rajya Sabha MP Birender Singh met BJP president Amit Shah on Tuesday, setting off speculation that his exit from the Congress is imminent.
Confirming his meeting with Shah, Birender Singh told Rediff.com that though he is yet to take a final decision, he is open to the idea of switching sides. It is learnt the Congress leader is bargaining for the chief minister’s post. “He will not join the BJP only to sit in the assembly as an MLA,” Singh’s supporters maintained.
Moreover, Singh has two more years in the Rajya Sabha. In case, he decides to quit the Congress, he will put in his papers only after the Haryana elections are notified so that he can be re-elected to the Upper House on a BJP ticket by the new assembly, which is expected to be dominated by the saffron party.
While behind-the scenes bargaining goes on, Singh will showcase his strength at a rally in Kaithal (Haryana) on August 18.
Not only is Singh unhappy with Hooda’s style of functioning, he has been also miffed with the party’s central leadership since he was excluded from the Union Cabinet at the last minute after being offered a ministerial berth in the United Progressive Alliance government last year.
Singh had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi over a week ago when she urged him not to leave the party. Singh, however, made it clear that it will be difficult for him to continue in the party if Hooda leads the forthcoming assembly polls. Hooda has been under attack from his own party members who blame him for funnelling all development funds to his son Deepender Hooda’s constituency Rohtak.
While the Congress is finding it difficult to keep its flock together in poll-bound Haryana, the BJP has a problem of plenty, as the number of ticket seekers is constantly swelling. There is a section in the party that is pushing for an alliance with its former partner Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala who can help mop up the crucial Jat vote.
Those who are not in favour of this partnership are arguing that joining hands with Chautala, jailed in a graft case, would undermine the party’s anti-corruption plank.
Besides, the BJP is also confident of winning the assembly polls on its own given its spectacular success in the last Lok Sabha elections. The party believes that a combination of factors -- the Modi wave, the infighting in the Congress and the anti-incumbency against the Hooda government -- will work to its advantage.
Image: Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda