Congress names Kumari Selja as Haryana unit chief, Bhupinder Hooda CLP leader
The decision is seen as a balancing act by the Congress in Haryana where Hooda’s loyalists on Tuesday authorised him to take a call on whether to form a new party or stay in the Congress.Updated: Sep 04, 2019 22:50 IST
The Congress on Wednesday named senior leader Kumari Selja its new president in Haryana and also pacified disgruntled former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda by appointing him the legislature party leader and the chairperson of the election management committee in the state.
A former union minister and a top Dalit leader in the Congress, 56-year-old Selja takes over from Ashok Tanwar, also a Dalit, barely weeks ahead of the assembly elections in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state.
She faces a difficult task of making a demoralised and a weakened Congress fighting fit for the polls, due in October-November this year.
By appointing 71-year-old Hooda as the Congress legislature party (CLP) leader and head of the election management committee and not the state unit chief as demanded by him, party chief Sonia Gandhi sought to strike a fine balance between different castes, and at the time also sent a strong message that the leadership will not succumb to any pressure tactics.
Having replaced another Jat leader Kiran Choudhry, 64, as the CLP leader, Hooda will be part of the screening committee, a key panel that shortlists candidates for the elections. The former chief minister had insisted on being a part of the candidate selection panel if denied the state president’s post.
“The party has taken the right decision. I accept it. I am thankful to Soniaji,” Hooda later said.
Making the announcements at a press briefing in Delhi, Congress general secretary in-charge of Haryana Ghulam Nabi Azad admitted that there was a delay in the appointments but hastened to add “better late than never”.
Hooda and Tanwar had been at loggerheads for the past nearly six years and the infighting had weakened the Congress in Haryana where the assembly elections are due in October-November this year.
Since Tanwar’s appointment in February 2014, street fights between his and Hooda’s supporters had embarrassed the Congress on many occasions and all efforts by the central leadership to set its house in order had failed.
Hooda had threatened to chalk out his own path if the change of guard did not take place immediately, and also formed a 33-member committee of loyalists to suggest the future course of action.
There was intense speculation that the former chief minister would announce his own party at a public rally in Rohtak on August 18. However, he did not do so but put the Congress party on notice by criticising its stand on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and supported the Modi government’s move.
Hooda’s supporters sought Tanwar’s replacement on the ground that he had failed in reviving the party organisation in the state despite being at the helm for almost six years now during which the party lost all the elections – be it the local bodies or the parliamentary polls.
The BJP not only won 7 out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 but also went on to form the government in the subsequent assembly elections in October that year. Out of the total 90 assembly seats, it won 47 and for the first time formed the government on its own since Haryana was carved out of Punjab on November 1, 1966.
And in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP maintained its good run and won all the 10 seats in the state.
The ruling party appears confident of retaining power in the upcoming assembly elections.
Asked about Hooda using pressure tactics, Azad said: “Whatever done in the past is past. This is the future and the new team will ensure to strengthen the Congress in elections.”
On why Tanwar was being replaced, he said: “There is a fixed term for a president. He remained president for six years.”