Four days after a clash between two Congress factions left Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee president Ashok Tanwar injured, the central leadership ordered a probe by Sushil Kumar Shinde, former home minister. The other camp is loyal to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda; the ostensible trigger for the clash in Delhi was which side would welcome Rahul Gandhi on his return from his Kisan Yatra.
“Shinde is likely to start the inquiry by Monday. It is because the high command has taken the issue very seriously that they have appointed such a senior person,” said Kamal Nath, in-charge of the party for Haryana.
Since he took over his role in Haryana earlier this year, Kamal Nath has tried to get differences sorted out. The rivalry is as open as it is serious. At any Congress event, supporters are known to let their turbans show which side each belongs to. Hooda’s supporters wear pink turbans, Tanwar’s supporters red.
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It began from the time Tanwar took over. Hooda, a four-time MP, had been chief minister for 10 years before the BJP formed the government in 2014. Tanwar, a former MP from Sirsa, had been handpicked by Rahul Gandhi to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. He took over as president of the Haryana Congress in 2014.
Hooda enjoys the support of most Congress MLAs. Tanwar is said to have Congress Legislature Party leader Kiran Choudhary on his side. Each camps constantly flexes its muscle at the other. During the assembly election campaign in 2014, the two groups had bickered over tickets. After the Congress lost, they blamed each other. Prior to assembly sessions, MLAs have attended meetings under the leadership of Hooda ahead of the CLP meeting that Choudhary would chair.
Hooda and Tanwar have held parallel, independent programmes on several occasions. In May last year, Hooda had announced an agitation from Kandela in Jind. Tanwar followed with an announcement of yatras against the central and state governments.
Last April, 12 MLAs met then AICC in-charge Shakeel Ahmad to call for Tanwar’s ouster, alleging that he never took leaders into confidence. They alleged Tanwar had not invited them for his sadhbhawna yatra following the Jat agitation. MLA Geeta Bhukkal, meanwhile, alleged that Tanwar and Choudhary did not visit her house in Jhajjar that was burnt by protestors although the two were in Jhajjar. The two leaders later said they did try to visit her.
When one camp has asserted itself, the other has challenged it. At a function hosted by Hooda, the guests included former MLAs BL Saini and Ashok Kashyap. Tanwar described their presence as “unlawful”, saying it could only be approved at the level of Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. Things hit a low with the clash on October 6. The injured Tanwar has been in hospital since then.
AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi issued a statement on the inquiry Monday. “The Congress President Smt Sonia Gandhi has decided that Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde, former Union Home Minister and former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, will conduct an enquiry into the incident which took place on October 6, 2016 at Bhairo Mandir, Delhi, where workers and leaders from Haryana had assembled to welcome Shri Rahul Gandhi. Shri Shinde has been asked to submit his report at the earliest.”
A case was registered by Delhi police on the complaint of Navdeep Singh Dalal, a supporter of Tanwar. He named Hooda’s personal security officer Satyawan Pehlwan, former MLA Dharampal Rao’s son Virender Rao, and Wazir Singh and Kala, said to be guards of the former CM’s nephew Bittu Hooda, among 30 to 40 accused.
Since the clash, Tanwar’s supporters have been holding protests against Hooda in several districts, sometimes burning effigies. In an appeal issued to his supporters from Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, “Attempts were made to mentally harass me and my family. However being a true soldier of the Congress, I appeal to all of you not to protest against anyone,” he said.