By Neeraj Mahajan
Caste, money, political – the realignment of forces in Haryana is near complete. Venod Sharma’s defection to the Kuldeep Bishnoi led Janhit Haryana Congress is symbolic of the mood of the well entrenched builder lobby to put the cart before the horse. The builder lobby obviously wants to install its favorite- chosen one as the new Chief Minister in the state. If the present developments in state are an indication, the money bags are calling the shots and seem to be succeeding in their bid to enjoy the spoils of power for yet term.
This is nothing but a coup in the political minefield of a state called Haryana– another proof today is all about opportunities and cashing in on them. There are no political commitments or loyalties left anymore. But what this trend indicates is a much larger game in the state where Bhupinder Singh Hooda seems to be getting isolated and losing control over the fiefdom which he carefully nurtured over the last five years since he assumed control.
If the available trend is an indication, the power centers in the state have started shifting. The latest blow to Hooda’s authority is that Venod Sharma’s defection to the BJP. After Hooda Venod Sharma was one of the most powerful persons in the state and the closest friend –CM Hooda had left in the party. Already Gurgaon MP Inderjit Singh and Sohna MLA Dharamvir Singh had deserted him.
While it’s too early to predict if Hooda’s loss is going to be BJP’s gain in the pre-poll electoral race, Inderjit with both Venod Sharma and Inderjit Singh in its safe hands the saffron party now holds the trump card. Many other senior party leaders including Dharamvir are likely to follow suit in the days to come.
But more than anything else this development signifies the shifting loyalties of the builder lobby whom Hooda developed in the state with the hope they will stand by him the time of need just before the elections. It remains to be seen if the builders in the state continue to support Hooda as expected or also swing along the path shown by Venod Sharma. In case they do Hooda is in for trouble.
One time Hooda’s most trusted lieutenant and closed friends in the party Sharma wanted to contest from the Karnal- Chandigarh parliamentary seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections. But when the party seemed inclined to favor his one of the bitter rivals Kumari Selja – this proved to be last straw on Sharma’s back.
Sharma who had been chairman of the state Congress election committee and led the party to victory in the last elections – started criticizing the party’s selection of candidates. Recent hoardings and publicity material put up by him for the Jan Chetna Mahayagya – a political event scheduled to be held in Kurukshetra on March 9 – did not mention the names of the party or its top leaders. This fueled further speculation and was a clear signal that he was considering leaving the party. But unfortunately Hooda either ignored the signals or did not care.
The situation was fully exploited by the newly appointed Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar who exploited the situation and helped widen the rift between Hooda and Venod Sharma in the name of strengthening inner-party discipline.
The issue is not whether Tanwar had any knowledge about Sharma’s annoyance but the manner in which he reportedly manipulated the situation ensured that Sharma was not to be seen in many important functions like the budget presentation by finance minister H S Chatha in the assembly. He resigned from the chairmanship of state election campaign committee and also did not attend the general body meeting of the party. The importance of this meeting was that it was supposed to be the first GBM called by Tanwar after becoming State Congress president in Chandigarh. The AICC General Secretary in-charge of Haryana Shakeel Ahmad, CM Hooda and all MLAs attended the meeting.
Significantly all the Congress MPs from the state except Rajya Sabha MP Birender Singh were absent in the Chandigarh meet. Soon thereafter Sharma is understood to have met BJP chief Rajnath Singh and other leaders.
Meanwhile, Sharma’s defection at this crucial juncture could prove to be detrimental for the Congress which is expected to release the list of candidates from Haryana for Lok Sabha elections on March 7.
Sharma a former Union minister had to resign in the wake of a relentless media and public pressure over his son Manu Sharma’s involvement in the Jessica Lal murder case. Allegations of trying to bribe witnesses in Jessica Lal murder case sealed Sharma’s political career much before it could begin. This is when Hooda stood by him got him reinstated as the chairman of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee. Sharma also managed to get into the good books of UPA chairperson and 10 other occupants of 10 Janpath.
The 40-member election campaign committee, he headed comprised of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and two Union ministers besides other MPs and MLAs.
The rest is history as he soon was back as an MLA from Ambala. Sharma was seen by many as a successor to Hooda and likely contenders for the CM’s post in the race with Bhajan Lal, Birender Singh and Randeep Surjewala.
Since the day he shifted his house next to that of CM’s official residence – many started addressing him – though behind his back as the de facto CM. He did not only control — power as the power minister – a post which was left vacant for him – but had become one of the most powerful power brokers in the state.
Of late, Hooda too was heard saying that the next Chief Minister should be a Brahmin. The implications were quite clear as no Brahmin leader in the state had the clout as Venod Sharma used to command.
There is a possibility that Ashok Tanwar’s appointment as Haryana Congress President was not to Venod Sharma’s liking and he possibly wanted to –the bloating paper that absorbs everything—including power.