The Congress high command hasn’t been receptive to Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s demand that PCC chief Ashok Talwar be removed. With patience wearing thin, Hooda is reportedly planning to launch a breakaway party soon.
At the ‘Mahaparivartan Rally’ held in Rohtak on August 18, two-time former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda threw the gauntlet down at the Congress leadership. Holding forth on his differences with the Congress Working Committee’s (CWC’s) position on the abrogation of Article 370 pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, Hooda declared that the Congress had ‘lost its way’. Dropping hints on his future course of action, he declared he had come before his people after “breaking free from all shackles”.
Hooda had been at loggerheads with his party for a while over his demand to replace incumbent Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Ashok Tanwar. The Congress high command hasn’t been receptive to the idea, despite Sonia Gandhi back at the helm of affairs. As the most popular Congress leader in poll-bound Haryana, Hooda contends that he deserves to be projected as the chief ministerial face, or be made the PCC chief, a la Amarinder Singh in Punjab in 2017.
With his patience seemingly wearing thin, Hooda is reportedly planning to launch a breakaway party soon. While it would seem like a no-brainer for the Congress to defer to Hooda to remain in contention in Haryana, it isn’t a straightforward decision.
Back in 2004, the Congress won a landslide in the assembly election(67 out of 90 seats), and had a tough decision to make on who would become chief minister. Although septuagenarian Bhajan Lal was the frontrunner, the central leadership was keen on effecting a generational change; Hooda, then an MP from Rohtak, was the surprise pick ahead of the more probable Birender Singh and (the late) Surender Singh. As a four-time MP since 1991, Hooda had managed to get close to the Gandhis and curry favour with the coterie, to emerge as the dark horse.
As chief minister, Hooda managed to consolidate his position in the All India Congress Committee (AICC) as the go-to man for raising funds and mobilising workers for party events. Also, with imaginative use of Haryana’s valuable real estate lying contiguous to Delhi, Hooda managed to acquire the clout that even ministers in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government couldn’t command. Hooda simultaneously dealt with his rivals in Haryana Congress ruthlessly, virtually leaving him as the only tall leader in the Congress when he demitted office.
In 2014 assembly elections, after Hooda’s two terms the Congress was down to 15 seats. Cut to the 2019 general elections, the Congress lost all 10 seats in Haryana to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both Hooda and his son, Deepender Singh Hooda, lost from the Jat heartland constituencies of Sonepat and Rohtak respectively.
Although Hooda junior’s loss in Rohtak to the Congress turncoat Arvind Sharma was by a slender margin (7,503 votes) after the counting of the postal votes, the poll defeats diminished the stock of the Hoodas within the Congress. The former CM was cocksure that the Congress had no option but to back him in Haryana, with leaders such as Kumari Selja, Kiran Chowdhary and Ashok Tanwar having no mass base of their own, and Kuldeep Bishnoi not seen as a leadership contender yet.
Having backed Ashok Tanwar to the hilt as PCC chief, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi would have ideally preferred to back Randeep Singh Surjewala as the Congress’ chief ministerial candidate in Haryana — except Surjewala has not been active in Haryana politics after taking up the role as the AICC general secretary in-charge of communications.
In fact, Surjewala ended up finishing a distant third in a by-election to the Jind assembly constituency in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election, not far from his former constituency of Narwana, from where he had emerged as a giant killer by defeating Om Prakash Chautala twice in 1996 and 2005.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s relationship with the Gandhis soured after the 2016 Rajya Sabha election of BJP-backed industrialist Subhash Chandra against Congress-backed (independent) RK Anand, when the former CM intentionally left his ballot paper blank and 12 of his supporting MLAs had their votes invalid.
Despite the obvious dearth of options in Haryana, a battle-scarred Congress seems to be in no mood to yield to Hooda’s pressure tactics and blackmail. With the revoking of Article 370 being a wildly popular move in Haryana, the grand old party seems resigned to a certain defeat, with the BJP primed to make the most of the splintered opposition.
Like his predecessors Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Bhajan Lal, who were all part of the Congress at one point and went on to form splinter parties, Hooda too seems to be on the same path, as a rudderless Congress seems to have given up on Haryana even before the polls.Anand Kochukudy is a political commentator and editor, The Kochi Post. Views are personal.The Great Diwali Discount!
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