Haryana Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, whose vote in favour of BJP-backed Independent candidate Kartikeya Sharma led to the shocking defeat of party nominee Ajay Maken, has been removed from all party positions, including that of special invitee to the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s decision will apply with immediate effect, party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal said in a statement on Saturday.
The party could also write to the Assembly Speaker to cancel his membership, sources added.
“Congress also has rules for some leaders and exceptions for others. Rules are applied selectively. Indiscipline has been repeatedly ignored in the past. In my case, I listened to my soul & acted on my moral,” tweeted Mr. Bishnoi after the party action.
The defeat of Mr Maken, however, puts the spotlight back on the faction-ridden Haryana state unit while an emphatic win in Rajasthan consolidated Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s position in the on-going leadership tussle with Sachin Pilot.
In Haryana, the embarrassing episode exposed the fault lines in the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) that has been a battleground for three powerful political families: the Hoodas, late Bansi Lal family and that of late Bhajan Lal, whose son is Kuldeep Bishnoi.
While Mr. Bishnoi’s defiance, after being ignored for the PCC chief post as he was a non-Jat leader, reduced the Congress’s tally to 30, the party could have still won if another vote was not disqualified.
With both the Congress nominee and the Independent candidate getting equal number of votes, the second preference votes of BJP MLAs in favour of Mr. Sharma sealed Mr. Maken’s fate.
“The BJP had 40 MLAs, Congress 31 MLAs, JJP [Jannayak Janata Party] 10 MLAs, Independents and candidates of some other parties. One candidate abstained and one Congress MLA’s vote was rejected. So, a total of 88 votes were polled. Those who got one-third votes or 29.34 votes won. Both our candidates, combining first preference and second preference votes, won but the Congress candidate got only 29 votes,” Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar explained the poll math.
The Congress didn’t formally name which MLA’s vote was disqualified but with speculation about Kiran Choudhry – the former leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) whose rivalry with former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is well known – gaining ground, Ms. Choudhry issued a denial.
“This is absolutely false, preposterous and a malicious propaganda aimed at tarnishing my reputation,” tweeted Ms. Choudhry, daughter-in-law of Bansi Lal, who also added that she would take legal against those who spread this canard.
Many in the party also questioned the high command’s decision to ‘outsource’ election management to Mr. Hooda, who not too long ago was with the G-23 reformist group that stood up against the Gandhis.
“Everyone in Haryana knows the proximity between Venod Sharma [Kartikeya Sharma’s father] and Hooda. Why could he not persuade Sharma to sit out this election,” asked a senior party leader.
Victory for Gehlot
While the Congress under Mr. Hooda couldn’t manage a win despite having the numbers, admirers of Mr. Gehlot talked about him being a ‘magician’ to secure a win for all the three candidates in spite of being dependent on outside support.
The result of the Rajya Sabha polls is certain to consolidate Mr. Gehlot’s standing in the leadership tussle with Mr. Pilot, his former deputy.
Supporters of Mr. Pilot, however, argued such results were possible as the Rajasthan PCC witnessed a rare show of unity between the Gehlot and Pilot camps.
As the next Assembly election is only 15-16 months away, they argue that the central leadership should take a call on his [Mr. Pilot’s] claim to the Chief Minister’s position now.
(With inputs from Vikas Vasudeva in Chandigarh)