Cong brings change with hopes of revival in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal. Will they work? | Latest India News
New Delhi: Even as the Congress party was in the midst of a lengthy discussion with poll strategist Prashant Kishor for a possible role ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the party made key changes in the three states of the north – Punjab, where he recently lost power to the Aam Aadmi party; Haryana, where he sits in opposition and hopes to make inroads in 2024; and Himachal Pradesh, which will go to the polls later this year.
The changes, from people familiar with party thinking, are aimed at “correcting course”, streamlining party messages, cementing internal divisions and infusing new ideas and younger energy into state units. The three states are among the few where the party is still a major player and has a significant network on the ground.
In Haryana, Congress announced on Wednesday that Uday Bhan would be the new head of the Pradesh Congress committee. A former Palwal lawmaker, Bhan, 58, is seen as close to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is the party’s top leader in the state. Bhan replaces Kumari Selja, who had already served a full term, and the cadres demanded that the state unit needs new energy. With his exit and the appointment of Bhan, the Hoodas now have full sway over the Haryana Congress. Significantly, on Wednesday morning, Hooda’s son and Rajya Sabha MP, Deepinder Hooda, met with Congress Speaker Sonia Gandhi. Insiders say that with this move, Congress may have won over the top Hooda who has been a prominent voice in the ‘G23’ (a group of leaders who wrote to Gandhi demanding changes in the functioning of the party). Deepinder Hoods also worked closely with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during the Uttar Pradesh election campaign.
Incidentally, Bhan is the son of Gaya Lal, the infamous Haryana politician who is the inspiration for the colloquial phrase “Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram” for defectors because he has already changed three parties in a single day.
What the party needs to be wary of in the state, however, is that it has replaced a Dalit as head of the CCP, and not for the first time. Ashok Tanwar was replaced after a very public feud with Bhupinder Hooda, and is now part of the Aam Aadmi party. And although Selja hasn’t said anything so far, she’s also said to be unhappy.
The Hoodas may be in control, but will they also be able to enthuse other castes beyond their Jat voter base and Rohtak stronghold?
“The young leaders left the party or they surrendered – the AAP will form a bigger government than in Punjab,” Tanwar said, reacting to Wednesday’s developments.
Another problem with the new Congress team is that most of the leaders are little known; other than Shruti Choudhary, former party MP and granddaughter of Bansi Lal. However, the Hooda camp is confident as the party improved its tally from just 16 seats to 31 in 2019 despite taking over the Hoodas in just the last few months. This time, they hope that the full control of the party and the anti-incumbency of the BJP will go a long way in helping them win the state.
In Punjab, which has been troubled by infighting for six months leading up to the 2022 parliamentary elections between former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and former head of state unit Navjot Singh Sidhu, Congress decided to break with existing power dynamics. Charanjit Singh Channi, who replaced Amarinder in hopes the party could use the Dalit map to regain power, was also dismissed. The official line is that a former chief minister has a “special place” in the party.
Last week, Congress appointed Amarinder Raja Warring to head the state unit. The main reason for this was that he was one of only two lawmakers to win in the Malwa region, at a time when Congress saw virtual annihilation by the Aam Aadmi party.
Warring, 44, is said to be a close associate of Rahul Gandhi. In fact, he led the Indian Youth Congress before the last election. The other members of the new unit are also handpicked by Gandhi’s team. Meanwhile, former state unit chief Sunil Jakhar is also on a warpath with the party high command. But the biggest challenge for Congress may come from Navjot Singh Sidhu. On the day the party was humbled by Kishor’s exit, Sidhu tweeted a photo with him. According to party insiders, Sidhu may seek to relocate and explore independent options outside of Congress. Members of Gandhi’s team told HT they believe if there was anyone who could take on the AAP in the state, it was a new face like Warring.
Changes in the condition of the hills of Himachal Pradesh were as expected. It is the most emerging state of the three in terms of polling momentum given that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power in the state since 2017, and the AAP has stepped up its efforts in recent weeks with new multiple visits from its national organizer. Arvind Kejriwal, Congress chose to bank on the image of the late CM Virbhadra Singh by appointing his wife Pratibha Singh as head of the state unit.
“If you think of the faces in the state, you cannot get stronger than Pratibha Vir Bhadra Singh,” a senior official said.
What it has going for it is indeed a legacy that also managed to achieve a stunning victory in November last year where the party won all four assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat. . It even forced the BJP to consider a leadership change (which was later rejected), but since then the scenario has changed. With the AAP on the winds of change from neighboring Punjab, will old politicians and dynasty politics spoil the Congress plans here too?