Birender Singh: Outspoken leader whose stock fell in Congress
Birender Singh, the Rajya Sabha MP of the Congress now negotiating with BJP chief Amit Shah, once fancied himself as Haryana chief minister and then as railway minister. Rather than get those posts, however, he has seen his influence ebb over the years, his frequent outbursts notwithstanding.
Birender, seen as enjoying the blessings of Sonia Gandhi, comes from a family of Congress loyalists and has served the party for four decades, with a break when he defected to the Congress (Tiwari) until that party merged back into the Congress.
He was then MP from Hisar and one of his recent outbursts has been that Hooda used to be his election agent. “A person who was my election agent could not be loyal to me, how can he ensure the welfare of the general public?” he said at a rally this week, while charging Hooda with regional bias, ineffectiveness and being the “Chief Minister of Rohtak”.
Among the claims he makes, one is that in 1991 prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had promised to make him the chief minister but Rajiv’s death upset his fortunes and Bhajan Lal was seated instead, restricting Birender to revenue minister. Another claim is that in 2013, prime minister Manmohan Singh called him up twice to convey that his name had been cleared as railway minister, before a fresh message hours before the portfolio allotments told him he had missed that chance. He told The Indian Express recently, “Yeh sab Hooda ne karwaya.” He blames Hooda also for the denial of the Hisar ticket to his son, an IAS officer.
Grandson of towering Jat leader Sir Chhotu Ram, Birender has not been able to use that legacy as it has been Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Om Prakash Chautala of the Congress Hooda who have claimed the space of Jat leaders. In 2009, when he narrowly lost his home assembly seat of Uchana Kalan to Chautala, he was pushed farther to the margins in state politics.
His connections in Delhi helped him become a Congress general secretary and it was during this period that the Congress won the assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where he was in charge. When he was removed from the post, he was tipped to become a union minister, but did not.
Even after the Congress rehabilitated him in the Rajya Sabha, his showdowns with Hooda continued. He wanted Hooda removed when the Congress lost nine of Haryana’s ten Lok Sabha seats, but the high command threw its weight behind Hooda. That is what set off the negotiations with the BJP, with Birender first meeting Rajnath Singh when he was BJP chief, and now Amit Shah.
Capt Yadav: ‘Insulted’ veteran who could take no more of CM
Once a finance minister seen as enjoying no powers other than signing on papers, then removed and made power minister, Captain Ajay Singh Yadav was apparently biding his time. He quit when his arch rival, Chief Minister B S Hooda, was under sustained pressure following the Congress’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections, just ahead of assembly elections, and when leaders were leaving the party and rivals were calling for Hooda’s head. “I am no more a rubber stamp,” Yadav sad while quitting.
Though he is seen as easy-going, few can challenge his standing as a mass leader. He has won six consecutive assembly elections. He was, however, restricted to state politics until his son Chiranjeev Yadav, former Haryana Youth Congress president, married the daughter of RJD chief Lalu Prasad. This brought him closer to the Congress leadership. But his rivalry with Hooda continues at home; he accuses the chief minister of trying to create a rift among leaders in southern Haryana, where Yadav wields his influence.
Yadav first became a minister in 1991 under chief minister Bhajan Lal, and has since been part of all Congress cabinets in the state. When Indian National Lok Dal chief Om Prakash Chautala became chief minister in between, Yadav was the deputy leader of the Congress Legislature Party with Hooda as leader.
He claims Hooda never missed a chance to humiliate him and accuses him of restricting development of his area. “Roads in bad shape, the public health system at the brink of collapse, no educational facilities, no jobs for the people of my area and undercutting my mass base — this chief minister has done everything possible to harm my political career,” Yadav told The Indian Express. “Never have I suffered such insults from anyone. There is no question of working with him.”
He had wanted the Gurgaon Lok Sabha ticket for his son but was denied. He was pushing for an assembly ticket too but says he got no support from Hooda. His efforts to become a non-Jat face of the party and his to take over the state unit, replacing Phool Chand Mullana, all fell through, for which he holds Hooda responsible.
Yadav has never missed an opportunity to hit back. He recently organised a public protest against the government over land acquisition.
After his resignation, he found support from yet another rival of Hooda in the Congress, Kumari Selja. “This has not happened overnight and there have been issues. The CM should have sorted it out a long time back. It is his responsibility and he has to address it,” PTI quoted Selja as saying in New Delhi.
She does not expect Yadav to quit the party. “Some leaders have the habit of changing parties before an election, but he (Yadav) is not one of those. The Congress is an old party and senior leaders who have been working for the organisation for long should not leave the party,” she said.