By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Chandigarh : The undercurrents of a major feud within the ruling Congress in Haryana has been bared after the presidential election despite United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pratibha Patil getting more votes than the party's strength in the state assembly.
The shadow boxing by Congress politicians against one another – mainly the bigger faction led by Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the other of his bete noire Bhajan Lal and his MP son Kuldip Bishnoi – has now come out in the open.
Even though the Congress got 74 votes in the presidential poll – higher than its strength of 67 legislators in the 90-member assembly – a fight within the party has erupted because at least three or four Congress legislators are believed to have voted against Patil. The higher tally by the Congress is owing to the support of nine independent legislators.
Fingers are now being pointed openly for this "cross-voting" at former chief minister Bhajan Lal.
His son Bishnoi, who was earlier this year suspended by the Congress for his anti-party statements, had given a call to party legislators to use their conscience while voting during the presidential poll. Bishnoi had expected more legislators to vote against the UPA candidate but that did not happen.
Hooda loyalists, after seeing the result, are demanding that Bhajan Lal and his son quit their seats respectively as legislator and MP and seek fresh mandate from the people.
"Since Bhajan Lal had won in the previous assembly election on the Congress ticket, he should quit his seat and seek fresh mandate from the people," said outspoken Congress legislator Karan Singh Dalal.
At least four ministers in the Hooda government and state Congress working president Ram Prakash, all Hooda loyalists, have openly come out against the father-son duo "for stabbing the party".
Bhajan Lal led the Congress to a thumping victory in the February 2005 assembly elections. He was state Congress president then and the party won three-fourths of the assembly seats.
He was touted to take over as chief minister. But it was Hooda, then an MP who had not even contested the assembly election, who became chief minister with the blessings of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Even though Bhajan Lal's elder son Chander Mohan was "adjusted" as deputy chief minister in the Hooda government, the fight between the Hooda and Bhajan Lal camps have continued.
Bhajan Lal's younger son Bishnoi has taken frequent pot shots at the Hooda government, especially accusing it of selling the interests of the state and its farmers in setting up the Rs.250- billion Reliance special economic zone.
Bishnoi became bolder and started criticising Sonia Gandhi's actions, resulting in his suspension from the party.
Hooda camp loyalists say that the voting in the presidential poll has clearly shown how much support the father-son duo of Bhajan Lal and Kuldip Bishnoi have among Congress leaders. They are seeking action against the duo, including their possible expulsion from the party.
But Bhajan Lal's supporters say that the present verbal tirade against their camp was to impress Hooda because he had already indicated that two ministerial berths that are lying vacant would be filled up soon.
"Wait and see where the support for Hooda goes once the hopes of many aspirants are dashed," a Bhajan Lal camp leader said.
Hitting back at Hooda, leaders of the Bhajan Lal camp say it is the chief minister who needs to seek fresh mandate in Haryana as the 2005 assembly election was fought under Bhajan Lal's leadership.