Despite having adequate numbers, 31 MLAs, and engaging with the resort politics well in advance, the Congress party in Haryana failed to ensure a Rajya Sabha berth for its nominee Ajay Maken in the Friday polls in an outcome that has left the state as well as the central party leadership red-faced, especially the state party satrap and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
On April 27, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) leadership revamped the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee (HPCC), appointing a close Hooda aide Udai Bhan as the new HPCC president, thereby giving a free hand to Hooda in the state party affairs. Subsequently, the Rajya Sabha polls were announced, which were considered to be the first test of Hooda’s leadership after he got complete control of the state party unit.
The AICC general secretary in-charge of communication, Randeep Surjewala, is a rival of Hooda. So, in a bid to balance the caste equations and also avoid any cross-voting in the Upper House polls in Haryana, the Congress high command chose to field Surjewala in the polls from Rajasthan, nominating another AICC general secretary Ajay Maken, a known loyalist of Gandhis, from Haryana. Hooda was entrusted with the responsibility to ensure Maken’s victory. As far as the optics are concerned, Hooda, along with his son Deepender Hooda and Bhan, appeared to leave no stone unturned to enable Maken to sail through the polls.
However, Kuldeep Bishnoi, a known detractor of Hooda, had different plans. He had been sulking for not being made the HPCC chief and had even maintained that he would announce his next move only after meeting top party leader Rahul Gandhi. He did not get any appointment with Gandhi, though. “He (Rahul Gandhi) would not have succumbed to the black-mailing (by Bishnoi). Apparently, that’s why he did not meet Bishnoi,” a senior Congress leader said. From the beginning, the Congress was not counting on Bishnoi’s vote while being confident that Maken could still clinch an Upper House berth with 30 votes.
Meanwhile, ex-Union minister and expelled Congress leader Venod Sharma’s son Kartikeya Sharma entered the fray and upset the Congress’s plans. Backed initially by the Dushyant Chautala-led JJP, Sharma subsequently got the support of the Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP dispensation, six Independent MLAs, and one MLA each of the INLD (Abhay Chautala) and Haryana Lokhit Party (Gopal Kanda).
Anticipating a tight-contest, Hooda asked all 31 party MLAs to reach Delhi from where all of them were to be taken on a chartered flight to a five-star resort in Raipur in the Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh. Only 29 MLAs joined the flock and went to the Raipur resort. Bishnoi and Kiran Choudhry, another Hooda detractor, did not join them. Hooda’s son Deepender, a Rajya Sabha MP, stayed with the party MLAs at the Raipur resort from June 2 till all of them reached the Haryana Assembly on the polling day on June 10. In the polls, Bishnoi did not vote for the party’s nominee while Choudhry allegedly “cast wrong vote”, which eventually sealed Maken’s fate.
Hooda said that he did his best and that “it is all part of politics”. “The party was not counting Kuldeep Bishnoi and unfortunately one vote got rejected. Remaining all 29 MLAs remained united and are intact. Anything could have happened when the stakes were so high. Several Independent MLAs had alleged horse-trading and offers being made to them, but Congress MLAs did not succumb to any such allurements, stayed united and voted for the party’s nominee. We lost, yes, but it is all part of politics,” the ex-CM said.
A senior BJP leader, however, told the Express: “Factionalism within Congress can never end. Everybody knows that there are multiple power-centres within Congress. They all wait for suitable opportunities to settle their scores against each other. That is what happened this time, too.”