The shock defeat of senior Congress leader Ajay Maken, the party's candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections in Haryana, is a reflection of the intense factionalism in the state unit of the party and comes as a setback to the personal political heft of Jat strongman Bhupinder Singh Hooda who only recently had succeeded in stamping his dominance over the party's affairs in the state.
Hooda's bete noire, party leader Kuldeep Bishnoi, is known to have felt mighty snubbed when the party high command recently appointed Hooda loyalist Udai Bhan as the Pradesh Congress President, disregarding his claims to the post. He had been sulking and has had his revenge through his vote in the Rajya Sabha elections.
Bishnoi is believed to have voted for media baron Kartikeya Sharma, who had entered the fray as an independent candidate and eventually won. Maken fell short of the magic figure of 31 by two votes. In the 91-member state assembly, Maken required the backing of 31 members, the exact number of MLAs that the Congress has. While Bishnoi is believed to have cross-voted, another vote from the party camp was declared invalid.
Giving strong indications on which way his vote went in the polls, Bishnoi, son of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal, tweeted in Hindi on Saturday morning, saying, “I know how to crush the hood (of a snake), you do not leave the forest because of the fear of a snake. Good morning.” The message was followed by a 'muscle' emoji.
Bishnoi had been impressing upon the Congress high command that a non-Jat should be made the PCC chief to bring about a balance of power in the state unit. His argument was that by giving a free run to Jat leaders, the party would end up alienating the other communities in the state. He is learnt to have been keen on being made the PCC chief. However, the party leadership decided in favour of giving the reins of the party in the state to former chief minister Hooda, appointing his confidant Bhan as the state unit president. Hooda is himself the Leader of Opposition in the state.
There had been speculation over the last few days about Bishnoi meeting former party chief Rahul Gandhi and that he would then be brought on board, especially with regard to the Rajya Sabha polls. However, that meeting never took place.
Bishnoi and his senior Haryana Congress colleague Kiran Choudhry were the only two party MLAs who did not travel to Raipur in Chhattisgarh, where the party's legislators from the state were sequestered in a resort ahead of the polls to the upper house.
However, it was said that Chaudhary, also a staunch rival of Hooda, had cited health reasons for not travelling to Raipur and the party did not have fears with regard to her vote.