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After Punjab Cong rejig, all eyes now on party’s faction-ridden Haryana unit

Last month, during a meeting of Haryana leaders chaired by Rahul Gandhi, a group of leaders backing CLP leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda had vehemently opposed PCC president Kumari Selja's leadership.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party leaders from Haryana in a group phootgraph, during a meeting in New Delhi. (PTI)

The recent leadership change in Punjab Congress has brought into focus the possibilities of a similar change in party’s Haryana unit with the murmurs of infighting getting louder amid reports that Haryana PCC president Kumari Selja has “offered” to step down.

While Selja has not commented on her “offer to resign”, party leaders close to her told The Indian Express that “she has not resigned, yet”.

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Last month, during a meeting of Haryana leaders chaired by Rahul Gandhi, a group of leaders backing CLP leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda had vehemently opposed Selja’s leadership.

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They had sought her replacement and more power to Hooda. A few party leaders of the state unit had even suggested that Selja be replaced by Deepender Hooda.

Soon after there were reports that Selja, in a meeting with Sonia Gandhi two days ago in Delhi, had offered to step down as HPCC chief due to the mounting opposition from the Hooda camp. The party high command has so far not taken any decision on it, said sources.

Congress party affairs incharge for Haryana, Vivek Bansal, told The Indian Express that he had “no information” about any such “resignation” or “even offer to resign” by Kumari Selja. Despite repeated attempts, Selja was not available for comments.

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“I had a word with her and she told me that she has not resigned,” a senior party leader told The Indian Express.

Another party insider said that “nothing moves verbally in Congress. It has to be in writing. Unless, she gives her resignation in writing and the party high command accepts it, she continues to be the state unit chief.”

But there are some leaders in the Congress who view the tug-of-war between the two camps with real sense of trepidation.

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“As such, Congress is already on a ventilator in Haryana. Repeated talks of change in leadership and attempts by one group to seek more power over the other is badly affecting the party’s prospects. Whether the leadership in the state unit is changed or remains the same, it is not going to make any difference. If this infighting continues, Congress will not be able to be the main opposition in 2024 Assembly polls, irrespective of what the loyal party workers do at the ground level,” a senior party leader said.

“Replacing Selja with Deepender Hooda means that Bhupinder Hooda would be stepping down as CLP leader and instead one of his loyalist will be appointed as the CLP leader. In that case, it could be anybody including Geeta Bhukkal being a Dalit leader or Kuldeep Bishnoi, a non-Jat face of the party, or anybody else. The party would not like to keep both the key positions with Hoodas,” another senior functionary of the party said.

Infighting within the party’s Haryana unit is nothing new. Earlier, Hooda was also at loggerheads with HPCC’s former chief Ashok Tanwar. Eventually, in September 2019, Tanwar stepped down from the post of HPCC chief. In October, 2019 he quit Congress, and first joined the TMC before recently switching to AAP.

After Tanwar stepped down as state unit chief, party chose Kumari Selja – a woman leader, a Dalit, an old confidant of Sonia Gandhi. She was appointed as HPCC chief in September 2019.

“The party high command also considered the caste combinations in the state and did not want to give absolute authority of the party in the state to the Jat community,” another senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.

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During the meeting chaired by Rahul Gandhi last month, Kuldeep Bishnoi, son of veteran Congress leader and former CM Bhajan Lal, had also staked claim for the post of HPCC chief. Bishnoi had suggested that his elevation would strengthen the party to consolidate the non-Jat voters in the state.

Recently, Hooda loyalist former revenue minister and four-time MLA Nirmal Singh ended his over four-decade long association with Congress and joined Aam Aadmi Party. Nirmal Singh’s daughter, Chitra Sarwara, too quit Congress and joined AAP with her father.

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Both Nirmal Singh and his daughter were denied party tickets in the 2019 Assembly polls despite strong recommendation by Hooda. Instead, Selja loyalists Venu Aggarwal and Jasbir Mallour were fielded as party candidates from Ambala cantonment and Ambala city, respectively. Nirmal and Chitra had the contested as Independents.

Ever since 2019 Assembly polls, Hooda camp had stepped up its campaign to seek Selja’s replacement.
Next Haryana Assembly polls are scheduled for October, 2024, and are set to be a multi-corner contest with Aam Aadmi Party already announcing that it will contest all 90-Assembly constituencies.

First published on: 11-04-2022 at 09:57:36 pm
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