CHANDIGARH: The rift in the Haryana Congress surfaced at a meeting where the party's state unit chief Ashok Tanwar faced fire over the recent poll debacle, prompting him to say, "If you want to finish me, shoot me", a participant recalled.
A party leader who attended the meeting summoned Tuesday in New Delhi by Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Haryana in-charge at the AICC, claimed Tanwar was targeted by some MLAs close to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
The MLAs pressed for a leadership change in Haryana over the party's failure to win any of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
When contacted Thursday, Ashok Tanwar said he will continue to work towards strengthening the Congress "as long as my party president and my party leadership want".
The meeting was attended by all 17 Congress MLAs from the state and lasted over two hours, a Haryana Congress leader said.
Former assembly Speaker and sitting MLA Kuldeep Sharma singled out Tanwar for the party's poor showing on the Karnal Lok Sabha seat.
Sharma was defeated in Karnal by BJP's Sanjay Bhatia by a humiliating margin of over 6.5 lakh votes.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda, his son Deepender Singh Hooda, Tanwar, Kumari Selja and Ajay Singh Yadav are among the other party leaders who lost the elections.
An argument broke out between Sharma and Tanwar, a party leader said.
Sharma also blamed Tanwar for not inviting him to a state unit meeting in Karnal recently.
However, Tanwar claimed that Sharma had not picked his calls for that meeting.
When some Hooda loyalists pressed for a change in the state unit's leadership, Azad asked them to work unitedly for the assembly polls that are just months away.
Azad is also learnt to have said any decision on the leadership issue in Haryana will be taken by party president Rahul Gandhi.
He is said to have been annoyed with the scene that unfolded during the meeting, and left after advising the state leaders to start making preparations for the assembly elections.
Facing flak from his own party men, Tanwar said, "If you want to finish me, shoot me", a participant recalled.
An MLA loyal to Hooda alleged that Tanwar used abusive language during the meeting, a charge denied by him. "I didn't lose my cool," the state Congress president told PTI. "I am a disciplined soldier of the party. I have been giving my 100 per cent to strengthen the party. Though we could not win any seat this time, our vote share increased by nearly six per cent," he said.
Asked why some party leaders want him replaced, he said, "There are some who have been at it for a long time. But as long as my party president and my party leadership want, I will continue to work to strengthen the Congress."
He said the assembly polls are due in October and it is the responsibility of every Congressman to unitedly take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Haryana party workers had clashed at a rally in New Delhi three years ago, leaving the state unit chief injured.
Tanwar had then blamed Hooda's camp, a charge vehemently denied by the former chief minister.
Hooda and Tanwar factions have also been holding separate party events in the state.