After four decades of association with the Indian National Congress, Haryana Congress’ tallest leader and two-time chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda for the first time showed visible signs of rebellion and criticised his own party on a public forum. Addressing a massive gathering in Rohtak, Hooda not only lashed out at his own party on the issue of Article 370, saying it was not the “same Congress as it used to be”, but also gave a notice to the party high command to either accept him as their choice to lead the party in the forthcoming Haryana Assembly polls or be ready for his departure.
What was today’s rally all about?
Many in Hooda’s camp construed today’s Parivartan rally— as the name suggests— to be a platform where the former CM would announce a major change regarding his future course of action or political ideology, which may be quitting Congress and announcing a new outfit.
Although Hooda did not announce his resignation from Congress, he threw ample hints, followed by a stern warning to the party high command to accept him as the state chief of the party. The message was loud and clear with 12 out of 15 Congress MLAs on his side and 60-odd other former Congress MPs and MLAs taking part in the rally. More than targeting the ruling BJP in Haryana, Hooda ensured that the rally was a show of strength.
What do Hooda and his aides want?
A four-time MP, two-term chief minister and four-time MLA— Bhupinder Hooda is undoubtedly the tallest leader in Haryana Congress. Hooda and his aides believe that the party can perform far better if the senior leader is given its reins. The Hooda-camp wants complete autonomy in selection of candidates too.
On the other hand, Haryana Congress’ incumbent chief Ashok Tanwar has failed to instill confidence in his party colleagues. Tanwar contested his first election in Haryana in 2009 and won from Sirsa parliamentary constituency. He was made the Haryana Congress chief in February 2014.
Ever since, Haryana Congress has lost every single election. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Congress barely won one seat of Rohtak. In the October Assembly polls, Congress hit an unprecedented low, finishing a distant third and failing to even secure the position of the Leader of Opposition.
The poor run continued in December 2018 mayoral polls and then in January 2019 Jind bypoll, where party heavyweight Randeep Surjewala was pushed to a distant third. Congress continued with its shoddy performance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, where it failed to win a single seat out of the ten. However, Tanwar reasoned that Congress had been on a decline in the entire country and Haryana should not be seen in isolation.
Why are Hooda and his aides getting desperate at this stage?
Haryana Vidhan Sabha polls are scheduled in October this year. Not only did BJP win all 10 parliamentary constituencies in Haryana, it secured thumping victory margins. Even Bhupinder Hooda and his three-time MP son Deepender Hooda lost in their citadels of Sonipat and Rohtak respectively. After Lok Sabha polls, the Congress itself has been facing a leadership crisis and Sonia Gandhi has recently been nominated as “interim chief”.
With such uncertainty at the top, Haryana Congress leaders were thinking about their future in a state that they have dominated since last five decades. Majority of Haryana Congress MLAs have sought Tanwar’s removal as state party chief and Hooda as his replacement.
After the Lok Sabha polls, Congress’ first coordination panel’s meeting chaired by Ghulam Nabi Azad in June also witnessed fireworks, with Tanwar facing opposition and criticism from his own colleagues. Several leaders of Haryana Congress have also backed Hooda during their one-on-one meetings with Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders of Congress in the past. However, the party high command’s failure to replace Tanwar has now forced Hooda camp to come out in open and announce a rebellion.
What is wrong within Congress in Haryana?
Infighting and lack of synergy within Congress in Haryana has always been its bugbear but it has only gotten worse in the last few years. There are at least five groups within the Haryana Congress, with Hooda-camp being the most powerful in terms of politics.
Four other groups include one led by Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, another by former chief minister Bansi Lal’s daughter-in-law and current Congress Legislative Party leader Kiran Choudhry, another led by Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala and another fringe group led by former chief minister Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi.
However, neither of Tanwar, Surjewala, Kiran and Kuldeep is considered a mass leader in Haryana. Tanwar, who enjoys close proximity with Rahul Gandhi, has failed to take the party leaders along and instil confidence. Hooda and his aides have been seeking Tanwar’s removal for the last four years but Rahul has not adhered to their repeated requests. With Sonia in saddle, the Hooda-camp had seen a ray of hope but that has also faded.
Is Hooda doing something new in Haryana Congress?
No. Haryana Congress has a history of its tall leaders quitting the party and floating their new political outfits. Devi Lal had quit Congress in 1971 and formed his own political party Lok Dal that is today’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD). After leaving Congress, Devi Lal had become Haryana chief minister and even became India’s deputy prime minister.
Then, Bansi Lal, former chief minister of Haryana, had quit Congress and floated Haryana Vikas Party in 1999. However, today his daughter-in-law Kiran Choudhry is in Congress. Another former Haryana CM Bhajan Lal too had quit Congress in 2007 and floated his Haryana Janhit Congress. Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi is also back in Congress.
If Hooda too quits Congress eventually and does not join any other national party, he shall be the fourth Congress leader in Haryana to quit the party and float his own political outfit. Except for Bhajan Lal, Devi Lal, Bansi Lal and Hooda are Jats.