Hectic lobbying has begun for the chief ministers’ post, especially in Haryana where the party will have to turn to Independents or former Congress leader Bhajan Lal’s Janhit Congress to rustle up a majority because of chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s failure to win a clear mandate.
This is quite unlike the situation in Maharashtra and Arunachal Pradesh where the verdict has clearly gone in favour of the party and Ashok Chavan and Dorjee Khandu remain frontrunners.
Shortly after the results came in, Union Minister for Poverty Alleviation and Tourism Kumari Selja called on Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. But she remained tightlipped on whether she was a contender for the post.
“We will form the government,” she claimed after the meeting. But when quizzed that her name was being mentioned as a possible candidate for the chief minister’s post, she shot back: “Names keep coming up.”
While party legislators will choose their nominee in consultation with the high command, the choice will depend on the kind of coalition the Congress sews up in Haryana to meet the shortfall of six seats for a simple majority in the 90-member Assembly. There are seven Independents, including four Congress rebels, and six Janhit Congress legislators.
Sources said that the Congress has opened a channel of communication with former Congressmen and now Janhit Congress’s Kuldeep Bishnoi and his father Bhajan Lal. The latter has reportedly laid down conditions for offering support. Not surprisingly, one of these is the removal of Hooda, his bete noire, as chief minister.
“I have been receiving feelers for an alliance from both INLD supreme Om Prakash Chautala and Bhupinder Singh Hooda and those against him,” PTI quoted Bishnoi as saying in Chandigarh. “My party and Independents will play a key role in the formation of the next government in the state.” On its part, the Congress may prefer to tap the Independents, four of whom are party rebels. But to scuttle any effort that Chautala may make to craft a rag tag coalition, the Congress may keep the Janhit Congress on the bait.
The Congress Core Group, including PM Manmohan Singh and Sonia, is likely to take a call on this issue.
Unlike Hooda, Chavan and Khandu are not on a sticky wicket though the former is up against heavyweights like Union Ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushilkumar Shinde, state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre and former CM Narayan Rane.
Another Union Minister, Prithviraj Chavan, and state revenue minister Patangrao Kadam could be considered dark horses. Except Shinde, all are Marathas.
A senior Congress leader told HT that Chavan was “almost certain” to retain his post in view of the party’s success in winning 17 Lok Sabha seats in April-May 2009 and the assembly elections now.
A section in the party also believes that Chavan had got just 10 months to prove himself and should be given more time.