Heated exchanges at Haryana Congress leadership meeting with Rahul Gandhi

A closed-door meeting of a select senior Haryana Congress leaders with Rahul Gandhi and AICC representatives on Friday witnessed heated exchanges. The meeting, convened to discuss ways to strengthen the Haryana Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha and assembly polls, took place in the backdrop of intensifying factional positioning with competing stakeholders trying to wrest the PCC leadership, currently held by Kumari Selja. The meeting was also convened in backdrop of the Gandhi-Vadra leadership stature taking further hit following the recent poll routs and facing pressure from change-seekers which includes BS Hooda whose shares frosty ties with Selja. The Congress is reeling under the crippling defeat in Punjab, following a combination of in-house feud, factionalism, caste and the high command’s mishandling of party affairs.

According to party insiders, Gandhi stressed on the need for Haryana Congress leaders to hit the ground running right away to emerge stronger ahead of the 2024 polls. After he urged the state leaders to give their views, in-house rivalry played out in full steam. Selja is learnt to have bluntly told the meeting that neither the Hooda camp cooperated, nor AICC establishment helped her with PCC organisational team and districts and blocks-level committees despite her repeated pleas, forcing her to struggle on with a skeleton team of three or four office bearers since her elevation as state Congress chief in 2019end. She is learnt to have denounced ‘attempts to reduce’ her to a token PCC chief, despite the high command projecting her as a Dalit and woman leader when she was appointed. Selja targeted Hooda and his association with the party’s change-seekers by telling Gandhi that some leaders “who never cooperated” in strengthening Congress’ fight against BJP are now publicly taking on the party high command.

Hooda, the Leader of Opposition in Haryana, is learnt to have stoutly denied the charge and maintained there was an urgent need for strengthening the Congress organisation in Haryana. He said he was second to none in fighting BJP leaders, including the PM and CM. His son Deepender Hooda, according to party insiders, openly pitched for a ‘Jat leadership’ of the Haryana Congress by stressing the need for a ‘right narrative’ ahead of polls. He is perceived to be Hooda camp’s first preference for PCC leadership.

Kuldeep Bishnoi, is learnt to have tried to project himself as a leader of non-Jat leader sections. But Hooda junior reminded Bishnoi that his son lost the Hissar miserably, despite the non-Jat majority in the constituency. According to insiders, Randeep Surjewala, widely seen eyeing the PCC post, projected himself as a ‘concerned senior leader’ by stressing on HPCC’s task of fighting BJP and checking AAP and recalled how as recently as 2005 the Congress secured a majority in the state. It prompted another PCC chief aspirant, Kiran Chowdhury, to recall how the 2005 victory was made possible also due to her late father-in-law Bansi Lal’s party merging with the Congress.

The leaders later held one-on-one brief meetings with Gandhi. The Congress chief is expected to make a final decision on the leadership roles in the Haryana party unit.

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