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Why The Revolt In Haryana Is The Writing On The Wall For Congress

13/06/2016 10:14 AM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 9:24 PM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - APRIL 28: Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Haryana Janhit Congress Kuldeep Bishnoi (not in the picture) and others leaders during the merger of Haryana Janhit congress party with Indian National Congress on April 28, 2016 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

It is astonishing that the Congress leadership did not anticipate the rebellion in its ranks in Haryana which led to the defeat of its officially sponsored candidate for the Rajya Sabha, RK Anand. The writing was on the wall, if anyone had cared to read it. But no-one did. The result was egg on the face of the Gandhis and a smile on the lips of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi who left no stone unturned to defeat as many Congress nominees as possible in a do-or-die battle for supremacy in the Upper House.

This is the main take-away from the just concluded Rajya Sabha elections.

The drama that unfolded in the Congress in Haryana on the day of the polls was extraordinary. It was also grim reminder that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul seem to have learnt any lessons from the spate of revolts that have rocked the party in recent months. Disgruntled leaders from more than half a dozen states including erstwhile Congress bastions like Assam, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have walked out, accusing the Gandhis of not listening.

The drama that unfolded in the Congress in Haryana on the day of the polls was extraordinary. It was also grim reminder that neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul seem to have learnt any lessons from the spate of revolts that have rocked the party in recent months.

A similar story played out in Haryana. The top leadership ignored the concerns of their MLAs who had conveyed in no uncertain terms that it was bad politics for the Congress to sponsor a candidate jointly with INLD. The INLD had also announced support to Anand. Former Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and recent entrant Kuldeep Singh Bishnoi are believed to have met Rahul a few days before the election and pleaded for the party to abstain from voting rather than form a block with INLD.

The high command chose to ignore these voices and on the eve of the election, issued a diktat to its MLAs to support Anand. Interestingly, Anand even dropped in at a meeting of Haryana Congress MLAs, called the day before voting, to lobby for himself.

bhupinder singh hooda

(Former Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda addressing a press Conference at his residence in sector 7, on February 7, 2015 in Chandigarh, India. Photo by Sanjeev Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The dramatic events on voting day were something that seasoned parliamentarians don't recall having ever seen. The process turned into a farce as 14 of the Congress party's 17 votes were declared invalid. The reasons given were quite bizarre. Twelve of the 14 votes were knocked out because the MLAs had apparently used the wrong pen. Huh? They made this mistake under the noses of two senior Congress leaders who were appointed election agents, general secretary B K Hariprasad, himself a Rajya Sabha MP and therefore conversant with the procedures, and spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, who is a three-term MLA, a lawyer and experienced voter in RS elections.

Interestingly, even Surjewala's vote was thrown out because he had broken rules to show his ballot paper to a fellow MLA, Kiran Chaudhry. The rules permit only election agents to look at ballot papers. Surely Surjewala, who was one of the two official agent appointed by the Congress, knew the rules. And then there was Hooda's blank ballot. The former CM had not even marked his vote preferences and so his ballot paper was also rejected.

The reasons given were quite bizarre. Twelve of the 14 votes were knocked out because the MLAs had apparently used the wrong pen. Huh?

Although Hooda and the Congress are now blaming the BJP for hatching a "conspiracy" to have media baron Subhash Chandra elected instead of Anand, it is obvious to any seasoned hand that whatever scheming was done happened in the Congress. Experienced MLAs do not commit kindergarten mistakes like using the wrong pen.

The fiasco in Haryana exposes the inherent fragility of the Congress and the tenuous hold Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have over the party after the humiliating defeat of 2014. The past one year has seen a steady exodus of important leaders and each exit has been a blow. Himanta Biswa Sarma walked out last year and joined the BJP to script a stunning victory for the saffron forces in Assam this year.

himanta biswa sarma

(Former Congress Assam Health and Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma arrives for questioning at the CBI's office on November 26, 2014 at Salt Lake in Kolkata, India. Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Vijay Bahuguna left with eight MLAs in Uttarakhand. They would have succeeded in bringing down the Congress government in the state but for the centre's missteps. More recently, in the past week or so, two senior leaders, Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh and Gurudas Kamat in Maharashtra, have resigned.

The fiasco in Haryana exposes the inherent fragility of the Congress and the tenuous hold Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have over the party after the humiliating defeat of 2014.

The revolt in Haryana is significant because this is probably the first time that Congressmen have so openly defied a writ from the top. And they may just get away with it because the party can't very well expel almost its entire representation in the Haryana assembly.

More importantly, the Rajya Sabha drama is a signal to the party leadership that Hooda cannot be ignored. The former CM has been chaffing over his increasing marginalization. The state president, Ashok Tanwar, and the Congress legislature party leader Kiran Chaudhry were appointed against his wishes. A month ago, the party took back former rebel Kuldeep Bishnoi without informing Hooda.

With Haryana politics polarized into Jat versus non-Jat after the recent reservation agitation, space is wide open for full throated caste politics. Hooda is a Jat and with the only other prominent Jat leader, Om Prakash Chautala of INLD, in jail on corruption charges, the community faces a leadership vacuum. Hooda is raring to fill that vacuum, with or without the Congress.

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