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Assembly polls: New Haryana Congress chief Kumari Selja has her task cut out

Selja will have to bind the party together, rejuvenate the cadre and build a comprehensive campaign to take on the strong BJP election machinery

September 05, 2019 / 04:02 PM IST
Image: Twitter/@BhupinderSHooda

Image: Twitter/@BhupinderSHooda

Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP) Kumari Selja was appointed the President of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee on September 4. The announcement came after weeks of uncertainty and sparring within the Indian National Congress’ Haryana unit over its leadership.

Former chief minister and senior party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda had in August held a rally in Rohtak. The Hooda camp, which comprises many sitting Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), had sought a change of guard in the Haryana Congress leadership. He is not only a prominent Jat leader, but also the face of the Congress in Haryana. It was also being speculated that Hooda could float his own party.

However, on September 4, Hooda was made the Congress Legislative Party leader in the state and was appointed as the Chairman of Congress' state Election Management Committee.

Shortly after the announcement, Hooda said he accepts the decision taken by the party high command and will make all efforts to form a Congress government in the state.

The developments come weeks ahead of the Haryana Legislative Assembly election.

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The term of the sitting Assembly will conclude on November 2. Hence, the election dates are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Task cut out

Selja, 56, has her task cut out. The former Union minister will have to bind the party together, rejuvenate the cadre and build a comprehensive campaign to take on the strong Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election machinery.

All this is required to be done within a span of weeks.

The Congress last governed Haryana when Hooda was the chief minister for two consecutive terms, between 2005 and 2014.

Having finished third in the 2014 Assembly polls, amid the ‘Narendra Modi wave’, Congress had even failed secure the Leader of Opposition’s post.

The BJP had won 47 seats. The Congress won 15 seats in the 90-member Assembly. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) had 19 legislators. The INLD has split into two factions since.

The BJP swept the state of Haryana in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, winning all of the 10 seats there. BJP’s vote share significantly increased as compared to 2014. In fact, a closer look at election data shows that even if Congress had allied with the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP), the Opposition could have only won the Rohtak seat.

Hooda himself, and his son Deepender Singh Hooda, were defeated from Sonepat and Rohtak, respectively. The two seats fall in the Jat heartland of Haryana and were once considered Hooda bastions.

Even in the bypolls, in the lead-up to the general election, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala finished third. This was despite the perceived anti-incumbency against the Manohar Lal Khattar government.

Reuniting factions

Hooda has been engaged in a power tussle with then Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar. Tanwar was the state unit chief from February 2014. The party lost the 2014 Assembly polls, 2014 general election and was hammered in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.  Tanwar, is known to be close to Rahul Gandhi. The state leadership had, however, throughout blamed the nationwide decline of the Congress for these losses.

Selja, who is known for being close to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, is now tasked with the responsibility of bringing the various warring factions of the state Congress together in time for the polls.

The Rajya Sabha MP told news agency PTI, "It is a very big responsibility. I understand the seriousness of it. Assembly polls have come and all the leaders together have to fight the polls."

"The BJP is a propaganda machine and we will have to fight that," she said.
Nachiket Deuskar

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