Haryana Cabinet minister Ranjit Singh Chautala’s statement on Saturday praising Kiran Choudhry has further stirred the Haryana Congress’s pot, which has anyway been on a steady simmer since the party’s defeat in the Rajya Sabha polls last month.
“Kiran Choudhry is daughter-in-law of former chief minister Bansi Lal. She is from a renowned family and isn’t anyone’s slave,” said Ranjit Chautala, an Independent legislator who is aligned to the Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP government. Further, he added, “She is a known leader and has won on her own.”
Chautala’s statement is seen as an attempt to woo Choudhry into the BJP at a time when she is engaged in a fierce battle for one-upmanship with the Hooda camp, which has been blaming her, along with rebel leader and Adampur MLA Kuldeep Bishnoi, for the defeat of party candidate Ajay Maken in the Rajya Sabha election. On Sunday, Bishnoi again met BJP chief J P Nadda and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar — his second meeting in two weeks.
Sources said Ranjit Chautala played an important role in convincing Bishnoi to vote for the BJP-backed candidate Kartikeya Sharma in the June polls.
For years, Haryana’s politics was defined by the three Lals — Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal. While Chautala, son of Devi Lal, is himself part of the Cabinet, his nephew and deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala’s JJP is already an ally of the BJP. With former CM Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi already in talks to join the BJP, only Bansi Lal’s family had so far been out of the BJP camp. Sources said that by attempting to get Kiran Choudhry to switch sides, Chautala was trying to fill this key gap.
Choudhry, 67, has been a steady Congress hand. A four-time MLA from Tosham (Bhiwani), she was an MLA from Delhi before she entered Haryana politics following the death of her husband, Bansi Lal’s son Surender Singh, in a helicopter crash in 2005. Surender Singh was then a minister in the Hooda government.
With fingers being pointed at her — many from within her party — over the ‘invalid vote’ that led to Maken’s defeat, Choudhry has shot back, saying she knows how to cast votes and is a veteran of six Rajya Sabha polls. In fact, Choudhry lost a Rajya Sabha election in 2004 when a Congress legislator’s vote was termed ‘invalid’. The identity of that voter continues to be a mystery.
So far, Choudhry’s assertion that it wasn’t her vote that was declared invalid hasn’t convinced the Hooda camp, with insiders saying she is likely to face further attacks from within the party. Hooda has a free hand in running the state Congress, especially with his loyalist Udai Bhan now the state party president.
However, sources said, what could work in Choudhry’s favour is that she is among the few Haryana Congress leaders who are considered close to party president Sonia Gandhi. In 2008, then CM Hooda had taken away the environment portfolio from Choudhry but had to reverse his decision in less than 24 hours, apparently after the Congress high command intervened.
Besides, she may get support from Hooda’s detractors within the party who blame the former CM for “sidelining” them while allegedly promoting son Deepender Singh Hooda. They blame Hooda for the exit of prominent leaders such as Chaudhary Birender Singh, Rao Inderjit Singh and Ashok Tanwar from the Congress, and now for the “near exit” of Bishnoi.
A senior leader and All-India Congress Committee functionary said, “This is not the time to force leaders to leave the party but to keep them in the party fold while trying to get more on your side.”
While denying allegations that Hooda was “cornering his opponents”, his supporters insist that “traitors” should be exposed.