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The fight within

Ranjeet Jamwal | Chandigarh |

Despite former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s supporters continuously exerting pressure on the Congress high command to make him the state unit chief, the grand old party has conveniently chosen to ignore the pressure and done little to suggest if the Jat strongman will be the party’s CM candidate in the 2019 Assembly polls.

As Hooda continues to be on the back foot following corruption cases registered against him by the BJP regime and the Congress high command showing reluctance to play ball, it has given rival factions a lot of hope.

No surprise then, that with just a year left for Assembly polls,  Congress stalwarts in Haryana are charting their own course in the race for the CM’s post.

Be it Hooda, state unit chief Ashok Tanwar, Congress in-charge of communications Randeep Singh Surjewala or Rajya Sabha member Selja, they are all holding separate rallies in the state while maintaining a distance from each other.

Congress Legislature Party leader Kiran Choudhry,  Kuldeep Bishnoi (son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal who had left the Congress in the past to float Haryana Janhit Congress which has now been merged with the Congress) and senior Congress leader Capt Ajay Yadav  also make no secret of their chief ministerial aspirations.

While Hooda, Surjewala and Choudhry come from the influential Jat community which remains the Congress’ main vote bank, Tanwar, Selja and Yadav come from the non-Jat communities which largely backed the BJP in the 2014 Assembly polls and helped the saffron party form its first ever government in the state on its own.

As caste plays an important part in state politics, it’s no surprise that each of the CM post aspirants have more than a reason for their claim.

Being a two-time CM, Hood continues to be the tallest Congress leader in the state and has most of the party legislators on his side. Being a Jat, he continues to claim the community’s support for his candidature.

Haryana Congress chief Tanwar comes from the scheduled caste (SC) community and has emerged through the Youth Congress. He is considered close to new Congress president Rahul Gandhi who is expected to give young leaders a bigger role in the party.Surjewala is already a member of Team Rahul and expressed his desire to be the next CM at a public meeting recently.

Selja also represents the SC community which forms about 19 per cent of the total population and is known for her closeness to former Congress president, Sonia Gandhi. She has become active of late in the state’s politics and has been addressing public meetings. ikewise, Chaudhary, Yadav and Bishnoi also have a good rapport with the party high command and influence in select pockets of the state.

With no indication of the high command giving prominence to one leader over others, it appears the party would let the confusion prevail so that each CM candidate garners maximum support in their respective areas of influence or community.

But cracks in the Haryana unit can also derail Congress attempts to corner the Manohar Lal Khattar government ahead of the 2019 elections.

The extent of infighting in the Haryana Congress can be gauged from the fact that state unit chief Tanwar had in 2016 accused Hooda of scripting the attack on him in New Delhi.

Though an inquiry by the Congress had later concluded that the violence against Tanwar was not pre-meditated, the Haryana Congress chief was hospitalised with head injuries when Hooda supporters allegedly attacked  him during a rally in Delhi.

In April, the Congress’s central leadership had to bar its workers from wearing colour-coded turbans to the party’s rally in New Delhi as Haryana Congress leaders have been using the colour of their turbans to underline the headcount of their supporters in rallies held in the national capital.

Indicating the deep rooted factionalism in Haryana Congress, while Hooda’s supporters don pink turbans, Suejewala’s supporters wear beige coloured turbans, Bishnoi’s supporters wear the yellow colour and Tanwar’s supporters wear off-white turbans.

While Congress leaders maintain all of its stalwarts in Haryana are working for a common cause, the BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal say that infighting will spell doom for the Congress. Taking a dig at Haryana Congress leaders, health minister Anil Vij said all of them are in a hurry to get themselves declared as the party’s chief ministerial candidate for the next assembly polls. “All leaders, including CLP leader Kiran Choudhry, Ashok Tanwar, Captain Ajay Yadav, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Kumari Selja are in a tearing hurry to get themselves declared as CM choice. But these self-declared CMs may not even become legislators,” Vij said.

With the main Opposition party, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) forming an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj party, Congress is already facing a challenge for the anti-incumbency votes. But the way party leaders are out to project themselves as CM candidate, the fight appears more within the party than the battle against BJP or the INLD-BSP.

This race for the CM’s post is already giving a headache to the Congress high command which has been urging the state party leaders to work as a team. But at the ground level, Congress leaders continue to be at loggerheads.