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Bhupinder Singh Hooda at Idea Exchange: The only way out is to fight for the cause of the people; a leader then emerges automatically

One of the tallest Congress leaders, and leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, Bhupinder Singh Hooda was chief minister of Haryana from 2005 to 2014.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: May 16, 2022 6:59:06 am
Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda in conversation with Manraj Grewal Sharma at the Idea Exchange. (Express photo by Renuka Puri)

Bhupinder Singh Hooda talks about what the Congress needs to do to give a good fight to the BJP, preparing for the 2024 elections and giving farmers their due. This session was moderated by Manraj Grewal Sharma, Resident Editor (Chandigarh), The Indian Express.

Manraj Grewal Sharma: How is Congress preparing for the 2024 elections? As a veteran leader, what do you think the Congress needs to do to give BJP a good fight?

As far as policies are concerned, the Congress is for the poor, farmers and labourers. But the present NDA government has made a shift in its policies, and the result you can see — the rich are getting richer and the poor are becoming poorer.

As for me, I’ll talk about farmers and farm workers. What is the need of the hour? The farmer gets minimum support price (MSP), not maximum retail price, but sometimes he doesn’t get even that. Before these three farm laws were passed, there were three ordinances. At that time, I had said that the government should come forth with a fourth ordinance. In these ordinances, they were going for private mandis. I have no problem with private mandis but in private mandis, MSP was not mandatory. In APMCs, MSP is mandatory. So I said there should be a fourth ordinance so that if anybody, private or government, purchases less than MSP, it is punishable by law. So the farmer will get his due. Till now, farmers are not getting their due.

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We should make a law that makes purchasing less than MSP punishable. If you don’t give the farmer remunerative price, and allow private players to have their own way, he will go for distress sale

Manraj Grewal Sharma: Experts feel that market forces will help not only in diversification but also in giving the farmer better remuneration. For instance, this year, some farmers managed to sell their wheat for more than the MSP in Haryana as well.

Sometimes it happens. This time, due to the Russia-Ukraine war, even farmers in Punjab got Rs 5-10 more (than the MSP) for wheat, but that is not a remunerative price. The NDA government promised to double the income of farmers. It is 2022 and their income has actually fallen due to the rising cost of inputs such as diesel and fertilisers. During the 10 years of the UPA government, the average increase in MSP was 12-22 per cent. In the last seven years, MSP has increased by only 5.5-7.5 per cent. There is no problem in privatisation, but anybody purchasing less than MSP, whether private or APMC, should be punishable by law.

Harish Damodaran: Won’t this drive away the private players?

Fifty per cent of the total employment is given by the agriculture sector. People from rural areas are migrating to cities because of unemployment. If you don’t give them remunerative price, and allow private players to have their own way, the farmer will go for distress sale. You can’t strangle farmers like that. You have to balance things so both farmers and private players earn.

Manraj Grewal Sharma: You mentioned that the shrinking land holdings are making farming unsustainable. Shouldn’t we think out of the box instead of just focussing on MSP?

Unless MSP is there, farming won’t be sustainable. There are other things also that need an increase in income, for example, dairy, fisheries and poultry. There are not only farmers but landless farm workers too who don’t get finance from the banking sector. They should be given finance for piggery and poultry etc. The farm agitation took place because farmers thought the government was abolishing the MSP.

Everybody has said that there cannot be any alliance without Congress. Which party leads depends on the nature of the alliance — if it is a state or Central alliance. For 2024, we will decide accordingly

Manoj CG: You were one of the signatories of the letter that 23 partymen wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020. Recently, you said the party should introduce collective and inclusive decision-making at all levels. After that, Uday Bhan, considered close to you, was made Haryana Congress president. Are you still miffed with the party?

I was never miffed with the party. Every Congressman is close to me. But, we had some suggestions. And in future also, if I think it is in the interest of the party, I’ll keep on suggesting. That was the basis of the letter. It was not against or in favour of anybody. Those were some suggestions on how to turn the party around, because Sonia Gandhi said that the base of the party was weakening.

Manoj CG: What was Kumari Selja not doing that Uday Bhan will be doing?

She did good work too. But this is a process. I was also PCC president. What I did or didn’t do isn’t the question, but I was changed.

Manraj Grewal Sharma: Uday Bhan reportedly said Congress will do away with the quota system in ticket distribution.

Tickets should be decided on winnability. In a democracy, the number of seats you can win depends on the candidate, as now, along with the party, the face also matters. So priority has to be given to the person’s winnability regardless of his affiliation.

Liz Mathew: Everyone feels that this is one of the worst times the Congress is facing. What do you think the Congress should do immediately to make itself a formidable alternative to BJP, at least in some states?

Any party in a democracy should fight for the aspiration of the people; they should go with what the people aspire for, and what people expect from them. So, we should fight for their causes. Today, in Haryana, whether it is farmer, labourer, trader or government servant, nobody is satisfied with the present government. We have to take up their cause.

Follow Mahatma Gandhi’s policy and his thoughts. He was a staunch Hindu but had respect for every religion. The Congress has always followed Gandhi’s policies

Liz Mathew: BJP has emerged as the ultimate ruling party without any major opposing forces. We are also seeing the emergence of AAP. What should Congress have done from 2004 to 2014 to prevent this oblivion?

Democracy comprises a ruling party and an Opposition. The Opposition comes to power only when it is able to give the promise or power to people. We failed in that. In 2009, LK Advani was a stalwart but he was not able to promise the people that he’ll form the government. But in 2014, Narendra Modi gave this promise and he won. In politics, even one event can change the whole story. Let’s see what happens.

Liz Mathew: We have seen AAP recently taking up the nationalism cause, in line with BJP. They took some steps to please the majority, while keeping a distance from certain issues hurting a minority community. We have read in history that Congress leaders, be it Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, had taken certain steps that were seen as pleasing a particular community. What is your view on this kind of politics?

In a democracy, every party has the right to do that. So AAP is also doing it. The reason it succeeded in Punjab is obvious; it was the main Opposition party. If the Congress would have made some changes some two years ago, it would have been better. But leave that aside. AAP has no presence in Haryana. In Haryana, people look at only Congress as an alternative.

Manraj Grewal Sharma: Do you think the AAP sweep in Punjab will have an impact on Haryana?

Haryana has Delhi on three sides and despite being in power for so many years in Delhi, AAP couldn’t make their presence felt in Haryana. Punjab is different. Every state has got different political situations.

Harikishan Sharma: You said Haryana is looking towards Congress for an alternative but trends show that your vote share has been steadily falling since 2005 when you were the CM even though Congress’ slide nationally began in 2014. Your vote share in Haryana fell from 43 per cent in 2005 to 35 per cent in 2009 to 24-25 per cent in the 2019 assembly polls. How can you convince people to view your party as an alternative when your base is steadily eroding?

What was the result in 1996? The Congress had only six -seven seats out of 90. In Lok Sabha, we got only two seats — one was mine, the other was of Kumari Selja. But slowly, in 2000, we got 24 seats. These things happen and will continue to happen. The present government in Haryana has failed completely. It has proved to be a non-performing government, just an event-management government. People have realised this and that’s why, they are looking towards Congress.

Shyamlal Yadav: We have seen how BJP made parivarvaad (nepotism) a big issue in UP and succeeded. In Haryana, your third generation is in politics. You became the CM with 81 seats and now you’re at 31 seats. To safeguard yourself from this BJP attack, don’t you think Congress should give an opportunity to new people?

It’s not the third but fourth generation; my grandfather contested in 1923, he was a towering leader. My father was a member of seven different Houses. Nobody in the world is a member of seven different Houses, except my father. I have been to the Lok Sabha four times and five times to Vidhan Sabha. Deepender has also been in the Lok Sabha thrice, and is now in the Rajya Sabha. The question is how you behave with people — whether they accept you or not. There is no such thing that is you are a politician your son can’t go into politics. Or if you are a journalist, your son can’t become a journalist. If he’s a good journalist, he will carve his own position.

Manoj CG: You’re a grassroots leader. What is the political counter to this aggressive Hindutva run by the BJP and RSS?

Follow Mahatma Gandhi’s policy and his thoughts. He was a staunch Hindu but had respect for every religion. The Congress has always followed Gandhi’s policies.

Liz Mathew: During his trial on Babri Masjid, LK Advani said he had learnt to use religion in politics from Mahatma Gandhi.

This is what I’m saying. We will always follow Mahatma Gandhi. What is bad about it, when he was able to take everyone along with him. Be it Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, everybody took part in the freedom struggle under his leadership. The idea should be how to use it to build our nation. If you make a road, can you make a road for a particular religion or a caste? It has to be for all.

Shyamlal Yadav: Your government was in power for 10 years from 2004 to 2014. Since then, it seems Congress has done little for the party even though Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were free. You too must be wondering why Congress is shrinking.

This is why we have organised the Chintan Shivir. We are holding party elections. We will start from the block level. In Haryana, there were no ground-level block Congress committees or district Congress committees for the last seven years. For any organisation to be strong, the subordinate organisations are a must. So, this time we are having elections for block, district and state Congress committees. We will build a strong organisation.

Shubhajit Roy: Gandhi was in favour of prohibition (of alcohol). Haryana has one of the most liberal policies.

Gandhi’s disciple Nitish Kumar is enforcing prohibition, right? What’s the result? You have to realise what social changes are happening. Bansi Lal had tried prohibition, but what is its result today? There were several shortcomings in that. In Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, so many people are locked up in jails.

Shubhajit Roy: There’s a debate at the national level that UPA allies should take the lead and Congress should take the backseat. What is your take?

Everybody has issued statements that there cannot be any alliance without Congress. Which party leads depends on the nature of the alliance — if it is a state or Central alliance. For 2024, we will decide accordingly. In the state elections, the major party that should take the lead has to be accommodated by everyone.

Congress has to be in the mainstream in the national alliance. In 1977, when the Janata Party was formed, who was leading? Even Morarji Desai’s name was not declared for the Prime Minister’s post. So, that depends upon the political situation. If everybody in the alliance thinks about the interest of the country, they will decide accordingly.

Manoj CG: What has changed since 2014 in the relationship between Hindus and Muslims? What should be the political response to communal tension?

In Haryana, the government, to hide its failures, distracts the people. These are not real issues. We have been living together for so many years. Everybody knows that everybody has to live together. We have respect for every religion. We carry everyone along with us. We don’t get involved in hate politics. The Congress is highlighting the real issues. People will realise slowly. It takes time in a democracy.

Manraj Grewal Sharma: Recently, both the Akali Dal and the Congress celebrated their centenaries. Both parties are on the decline. And one grouse against both is nepotism; there, they ask to change Badal, here, they talk of replacing Rahul.

If someone says in a democracy that their party will never decline, that is not true. I have seen when there were only two members of Parliament from BJP. I’ve seen more than two-thirds majority of Congress. It happens. And it is good for democracy. Nobody should monopolise power. Nobody should think they are immune. People see everything, they are very intelligent. They decide at the right time.

Manoj CG: Congress president elections will happen in August-September and Lok Sabha elections in two years. Do you think Sonia Gandhi should continue till the LS elections are over?

The party is holding elections, and whoever is elected should be the president. The party holds democratic elections. If Sonia Gandhi is accepted by all, she’ll be there.

Varinder Bhatia: In the current scenario when your party is sliding, do you think a change of face can revive it?

Nowadays, along with the party, the face also matters — whether it is the Congress or the BJP. Can you ask any BJP person, what will be your position minus Narendra Modi? In 2004, we assisted Sonia Gandhi (to become the Prime Minister), I was in Parliament, but she refused. In our party, we think about the people. The only way out is to fight for the cause of the people, for their problems. A leader then emerges automatically.

Sourav Roy Barman: Over the next few months, Arvind Kejriwal is going to travel to Haryana and hammer home the point that all parties are tried and tested, give us a chance. With Haryana sandwiched between two AAP-ruled states, can you afford to dismiss AAP? Also, why do you think the talks fell through with Prashant Kishor?

I can’t say anything about him (Kishor), but as far as AAP is concerned, every party has got to come and convince the people. But in Haryana people see an alternative only in the Congress. And I am saying this because I know the ground realities.

Varinder Bhatia: You’ve been holding Vipaksh Aapke Samaksh programmes but we never saw the state Congress President participate. But the newly appointed president was there with you at the recent programme. Is it an attempt to present a united face?

There’s no question of factionalism. Our next programme is in Fatehabad and the Congress state president will be there too. These programmes are organised by the legislature party. Because the MLAs have to know (the problems), they have to be on the ground so that they can raise these issues in the Assembly. That was the idea of that programme.

Why Bhupinder Singh Hooda

One of the tallest Congress leaders, and leader of Opposition in the Haryana Assembly, Bhupinder Singh Hooda was chief minister of Haryana from 2005 to 2014. With the recent revamp of the party unit in the state, and the appointment of his loyalist as the Haryana Congress chief, the former CM has cut through the party factions to emerge the undisputed leader in the run-up to the assembly elections in 2024 when the state will face a new contestant in the Aam Aadmi Party. Hooda, who has considerable support among farmers, was also recently entrusted with preparing an agenda paper on farmers and agriculture for the Congress’ Chintan Shivir

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