Haryana Congress a Divided House as Next Assembly Elections Loom Nearer

Meanwhile, a new rival, the Aam Aadmi Party, hopes to repeat its electoral performance in Punjab.

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New Delhi: After the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) dislodged it from its pedestal in Punjab, the Congress is now jittery about its future in Haryana. With AAP Rajya Sabha MP and Haryana in-charge Sushil Gupta making repeated announcements about the party’s plans for the state and appealing to the citizens to give his party one chance, the Grand Old Party has to gear up to face a new adversary. 

Though the Congress has been out of power in Haryana since 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed its first government in the state under Manohar Lal Khattar, it has managed to remain a party of significance. In the 2019 Assembly election, the Congress’s vote share in Haryana increased by nearly 7.5 percentage points to reach 28.08% (from 20.58% in 2014) and it also won 31 seats in comparison to the 15 bagged in the previous election.

However, the Congress was unable to prevent the BJP from returning to power. The saffron party won 40 seats (36.49% vote share) in 2019 and formed government in alliance with the newly formed Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), headed by Dushyant Chautala, which won ten seats (14.8% of the votes).

The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), led by Abhay Singh Chautala, got a mere 2.44% of the votes and won just one seat. The AAP, which had fielded candidates in 46 of the 90 seats, bagged only 0.48% of the votes.

But the equation appears to be changing rapidly. With a large segment of farmers still angry with the BJP and JJP due to their stance on the three contentious farm laws – which, after the year-long farmers’ protest, were withdrawn by the Union government – and the Congress remaining a divided house, the AAP is sensing an opportunity.

In early April, former Haryana Congress unit president Ashok Tanwar joined the AAP. Tanwar had butted heads with former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda over ticket distribution ahead of the 2019 polls and had subsequently left the Congress.

Also read: Ex-Haryana Chief Ashok Tanwar Quits Congress, Says Youth Leaders Are Being Eliminated

Last year, Tanwar had joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) but, realising that the party had little role to play in Haryana, – and on not being given a Rajya Sabha ticket – he switched over to AAP.

Tanwar, a former Sirsa MP, holds significant sway over the region, just like several other Congress leaders do in and around their respective constituencies. As such, his departure from the party and his joining AAP signalled that Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit was prepared take any opportunity that came its way and accept any defector.

The Congress, meanwhile, has been struggling to keep its flock intact. Almost all its senior leaders in the state wield significant clout in their areas of influence. Be it Hooda in Garhi Sampla in Rohtak, Kuldeep Bishnoi in Hisar, Kumari Selja in Ambala, Randeep Surjewala in Kaithal, Kiran Choudhry in Bhiwani or Ajay Singh Yadav in Gurugram, each of them has worked hard over the years to nurture their constituencies.

However, barring Hooda, none of these leaders have a pan-Haryana presence. This is probably why the Congress still reposes maximum faith in Hooda to deliver.

This belief in Hooda is what led the party to appoint Ho0da loyalist and Hodal MLA, Udai Bhan, as the party’s state president. Bhan replaced Selja, another Dalit leader of the party. Though the move sought to balance the caste factor, it also showed that the party was still firmly behind Hooda since Selja is seen as someone opposed to him.

Also read: Many Times Over, Haryana’s BJP Govt Has Shown it Stands With the Extremist Hindu Right

The move had also left other leaders in the party unhappy, among whom was Kuldeep Bishnoi, Adampur MLA and son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal. Bishnoi, like his father, had rallied the non-Jat population in the state in favour of the Congress and had been eyeing the post of state chief.

After the party picked Bhan for the post, Bishnoi stated that his followers were angry with the move. On April 27, a day after the party’s decision, he took to Twitter to say that he shared their sentiments and that he, too was “very angry”.

Following Bhan’s appointment, Congress general secretary Surjewala, who is seen to be a confidant of party leader Rahul Gandhi, had also made his displeasure known at the move.

“Kuldeep Bishnoi would have been the best state unit president,” news agency PTI had quoted Surjewala as saying.

Surjewala’s statement was seen by some as a sign of rebellion, but it was borne more out of a concern for the party’s future as it had already lost Tanwar and could not afford to lose another`young’ leader in Bishnoi.

In fact, while the party pacified other prominent leaders by accommodating their supporters or family members as working presidents, it did not give any position to a leader from the Bishnoi camp. As for Ajay Singh Yadav, he, too, was accommodated and made chairman of the other backwards classes (OBC) department in the All India Congress Committee (AICC).

In his tweet following Bhan’s appointment, Bishnoi had said he would “ask Rahul (Gandhi) ji for an answer” before taking any further step. It now remains to be seen how the Congress will make sure that it does not lose another one of its leaders with mass appeal at a time when a new opponent is knocking at the door.