Main Deepender (I am Deepender),” reads a sticker pasted on the rear of an auto-rickshaw trundling through Rohtak’s busy market area. Somewhat reminiscent of “Main bhi aam aadmi”, this curt two-word message is what Congress MP Deepender Singh Hooda’s poll campaign has been built around in Rohtak. With Hooda Junior, 36, forced out of active campaigning for a spine problem, the party is trying to make up for his absence by exhorting workers to consider themselves Deepender and campaign as he would have.
“These are difficult times. At times you feel a bit low but then you pull yourself together,” admits his mother Asha Hooda who’s been holding fort in Rohtak and campaigning for the two-time MP. “It doesn’t matter to me how many votes he gets. What I am happy about is that he has earned the love of people,” she tells The Indian Express at the Hooda residence in Rohtak.
The spine problem aggravated last November. “While doctors advised him rest, he continued with his tours. Now, he has been advised complete bed rest. It is proving a herculean task to keep him away from campaigning,” Bhupinder’s mother says.
He was last seen in Rohtak in March for a day when he, along with his father and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, attended a party rally.
“It was the first political rally I ever attended. Deepender told the people he would only file his nomination papers the next day if they assured him they would fight on his behalf. The response he got from the audience was overwhelming,” says Asha Hooda, who has stayed put in Rohtak since that day.
Deepender, confined to his New Delhi residence, has handwritten a one-page message in Hindi that is being circulated to the people. The message expresses how he has tried to fulfil his responsibility with honesty, how he has worked with the best of intentions and how he respects all communities.
“For the past one month I have had a problem in my waist. I am unable to travel because of this. I am far from you physically but not from the heart,” the message reads. It goes on to add that though he worked for them for eight-and-a-half years, he is now unable to come to them to appeal for votes. “I hope you will consider this letter my presence… If you think my intention has been right and I have worked, then this election you will certainly consider me and you will think of yourself as Deepender and contest this poll,” the message signs off.
In Rohtak, his mother has been concentrating on the urban areas. “I tell people I have not come to ask for their votes. If Deepender has worked hard, please give him your love and blessings, I tell them,” she says. “When I go out to meet people, they tell me they are embarrassed that I had to come.”
Deepender’s election office keeps buzzing with supporters and workers. They collect publicity material and give feedback from those houses where they go for campaigning.
“His absence is surely a setback. But our workers are motivated enough to make up for it. Each of them is being told to think of himself as Deepender and campaign,” says Surender Dahiya, a retired high school science teacher close to the Hoodas and who has been managing the campaign.
Deepender won Rohtak in 2009 by over 4 lakh votes. This time, party men say, the challenge is to ensure that the margin doesn’t dwindle, even in their leader’s absence.