Haryana Cong MLAs meet senior leader Venugopal, seek 'leadership change'

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Chandigarh, July 5 (PTI) A group of Congress MLAs from Haryana met senior party leader K C Venugopal on Monday, apparently lobbying for former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

The meeting comes a few days after some MLAs sought a 'strong leadership' for the party in the state when they had met another senior Congress leader in the capital.

The two meetings indicate rumblings in the Haryana Congress, even as the party's top leadership deals with factionalism in neighbouring Punjab.

On Monday, the meeting was held at Hooda's Delhi residence.

Hooda is the Leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, while Kumari Selja is the state Congress president.

Barring Hooda, 22 MLAs visited AICC headquarters to meet Venugopal, the Congress general secretary in charge of organisation. Later, some of the 22 legislators held a meeting with him, party sources said.

All the MLAs who held a meeting at the Delhi residence of Hooda are considered loyalists of the former chief minister.

Four days ago, 19 Congress MLAs from Haryana had met AICC general secretary and party's Haryana affairs in-charge Vivek Bansal in Delhi seeking a 'strong leadership' for the party in the state and favouring a key role for Hooda.

The Congress has 31 MLAs in the state.

'We discussed organisational matters pertaining to the state unit as for many years district unit presidents have not been appointed… political situation in the state in the backdrop of ongoing farmers' agitation, upcoming panchayat polls… all these issues were discussed,” Congress MLA Kuldeep Vats told reporters on Monday.

Replying to a question of reporters in Delhi after the meeting, B B Batra, who also went to meet Venugopal, denied that there was any infighting in the state unit.

Senior Haryana Congress leader Kiran Choudhary, who is a sitting MLA and a former minister, met Venugopal separately.

Choudhary, however, described her meeting as a routine one.

'He is our general secretary and in-charge organisation. He is a senior leader, I keep meeting him from time to time. There was no specific agenda of my meeting today. In routine, I keep meeting the senior leadership,' she said.

During the two meetings, the MLAs stated that the party has not had district unit chiefs for the past eight years and stressed on the need to strengthen the state unit, the sources said.

They have sought a key role for Hooda in the state unit and a greater say in organisational matters, with some of them saying this was necessary in the present scenario as farmers' agitation is going on and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, who was serving a 10-year term in the teachers' recruitment scam, has been released from the prison.

The legislators were of the opinion that only a 'strong leader' could counter any advantage which the INLD might get owing to Chautala's release from jail.

After his meeting with the MLAs on Thursday, Bansal had told reporters that as the legislators had not met for a long time due to the Covid pandemic, it was decided to take their feedback about the political situation in the state and seek suggestions about the party's organisational structure and upcoming panchayat polls.

However, a senior Haryana Congress leader, who had attended the meeting with Bansal, said the MLAs conveyed that there should be a 'change of leadership at the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC)-level' to strengthen the party.

Reacting to the meeting of the legislators with Bansal, Selja on Friday had said, 'The MLAs can meet their party in-charge. I don't see any indiscipline if party legislators go and meet the party's state unit in-charge and say something. It is their right. Bansal sahab later clarified what the meeting was all about.' Selja had also separately met the senior leadership of the party after the legislators' meeting with Bansal on Thursday.

The developments in the Haryana Congress have come amid infighting in the Punjab unit of the party, where senior leader Navjot Singh Sidhu is at loggerheads with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. PTI SUN VSD SNE

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