In the race for Rajya Sabha, Congress Haryana MLAs are being hosted and toasted at a resort in Naya Raipur, in party-ruled Chhattisgarh, under the careful eye of Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Hooda apart from state party in-charge Vivek Bansal.
Deepender has been given the charge of guarding the numbers at a time when the Rajya Sabha results for the two Haryana seats has emerged as a prestige issue for father and Congress veteran Bhupinder Singh Hooda. While Hooda is himself the CLP leader, his man Udai Bhan is the state chief, making his hold on the party in Haryana total.
Hooda also has a point to prove as the third candidate whose entry has queered the pitch for the Congress is Kartikeya Sharma, the son of his old-time friend Venod Sharma. Any lapse on Hooda’s part will give his rivals an opportunity to question his loyalty.
While the BJP has fielded its former transport minister and five-time MLA Krishan Panwar, the Congress candidate is AICC general secretary Ajay Maken. Hooda and Maken belong to different camps in the party. Kartikeya is contesting as a candidate of BJP ally Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).
Fearing that its MLAs might be lured into voting for Sharma, a media baron, the Congress on Thursday night prepared plans to pack all of them to Naya Raipur, on a chartered flight via New Delhi. However, four stayed away – Kiran Choudhry (Tosham MLA, citing illness), Chiranjeev Rao (Rewari MP and son of Hooda’s bete noire Capt Ajay Yadav, who cited birthday celebrations), Renu Bala (the first woman MLA from Sadhaura, who cited personal reasons), and Kuldeep Bishnoi (Adampur MLA, who has been sulking). Hooda himself is yet to reach.
On Friday, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel dropped in at the five-star resort to meet the MLAs, who are forbidden from leaving the premises or meeting anyone, including party leaders from Chhattisgarh, without Baghel’s permission. The Chhattisgarh Police, including intelligence officials, has thrown a security cordon around the hotel.
One of the MLAs told The Indian Express that the arrangements were comfortable, and called it a chance to spend time with each other. “It is kind of a platform where all the MLAs can know each other better. Otherwise, we all mostly meet either in the Vidhan Sabha or at some social or political functions,” the MLA said.
Another legislator admitted the “tight security”, making it “impossible for anybody to approach anybody”. “Although there is no restriction, I don’t believe anybody will venture out on his / her own,” the MLA said, adding that the state government would probably plan some cultural / recreational activities for them.
While most of the MLAs are in single-occupancy rooms, a few have opted for shared accommodation.
Another MLA noted the pressure on Hooda. “He had been seeking a free hand in the state. The party high command agreed. Let’s see if he can secure victory for the party’s nominee.”
In another concession to Hooda, the Congress high command also fielded its chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, a Jat like Hooda, for a Rajya Sabha ticket from Rajasthan, to keep him away from Haryana.
On Friday, addressing a meeting in Hisar, Bishnoi said he retained the right to vote for the Rajya Sabha “as per my choice, not under anybody’s directions”. “I would also appeal to everybody else to vote as per their own choice and understanding,” he said. Sulking since he was not made the Haryana Congress chief, Bishnoi has not taken kindly to the denial of a Rajya Sabha ticket to him as well.
The Congress must make changes, he asserted. “It should reverse its decisions and take some strong ones if it wants to form the next government in Haryana. Otherwise, it is looking at a hung Assembly.”
On his next steps, Bishnoi said: “I have already said that till the time Rahul Gandhi does not meet me, neither I nor any of my supporters would attend any event of the party… I am told that he is out of the country and would meet me either on June 8 or 9. I will see what step I take after that.”
Hooda expressed confidence that there would be no cross-voting. “No MLA can afford the same if he / she wants to remain in the party. We will have party observers, and we have the numbers and are comfortable. The party high command’s decision is supreme and everybody should follow it,” he told The Indian Express.
Uday Bhan also appealed to all Congress MLAs to support the party’s Rajya Sabha candidate.
In the 90-member Haryana House, the BJP has 40 MLAs, the Congress 31, the JJP 10, while there are seven Independents and one MLA each from the INLD and the Haryana Lokhit Party. A candidate needs 31 votes to win, and the BJP can easily guarantee that, with nine to spare – and more counting ally JJP’s 10.
The Congress, on the other hand, is unsure of its numbers given that Bishnoi is sulking, and other MLAs are so far missing from its Naya Raipur retreat.