The Congress in Haryana has a battle on its hands. Besides having to deal with constant infighting, ahead of the 2024 Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, the party will not only have to contend with the ruling BJP but a new rival in the form of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP has already sounded the bugle in Haryana, announcing that it would contest the upcoming panchayat and municipal elections. Congress’s two-time former chief minister and Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda spoke to The Indian Express on the AAP as a contender, infighting in the Congress and the Punjab Assembly’s resolution staking claim to the capital city of Chandigarh.
After its stupendous victory in Punjab, the AAP is coming full-throttle towards Haryana. Are you worried?
The political situation, ground realities between Punjab and Haryana are very different. In Punjab, the AAP already had an existence — they had their MPs, MLA and cadre. However, they have not been able to make their presence felt in Haryana. They contested the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in Haryana but failed. This is a state that shares borders with Delhi on three sides, yet the party, which is in power in Delhi, failed to make any impact in Haryana.
As far as Punjab is concerned, the last-minute change of leadership (the Congress replaced Amarinder Singh with Charanjit Singh Channi) damaged the party. I do not know why the party did so but if they had to do something like that, it should have been done two years ago, the situation would have been different.
There have been a string of exits from the Congress in Haryana, including former Haryana PCC chief Ashok Tanwar who joined AAP.
Anybody can join any political party. That was for him [Tanwar] to decide. He had already quit the Congress and joined TMC before joining AAP. Once he has already quit the party, I do not think it is correct on my part to be saying anything about him. It is his decision.
Now two of your loyalists, including former minister Nirmal Singh and his daughter Chitra, have joined AAP.
I had recommended their names to the party high command for election tickets during the 2019 Assembly polls, but they were not considered. They formed their own political party [Haryana Democratic Front] and contested as Independent candidates. Today, they have joined AAP. It’s their decision. What can I say?
But aren’t these exits a reflection of the state of the Congress, the different power centres that have failed to keep the party together?
There are no power centres. Recently, a day before the Haryana Vidhan Sabha’s special session [called to pass a resolution to counter AAP’s resolution staking full claim to Chandigarh], I had called a meeting of Congress MLAs in New Delhi. Another meeting was held by the party in Chandigarh. The meeting that I called was not a party meeting, but of the Congress Legislative Party (CLP), which I head. It cannot be construed as infighting. The Congress is a democratic party, everybody has viewpoints and there could be differences of opinion, but there are no differences of heart. [The day Hooda held the CLP meeting, HPCC chief Kumari Selja and party’s Haryana in-charge Vivek Bansal called a meeting in Chandigarh.]
Rahul Gandhi spoke to you last month, after the party’s loss in the five Assembly elections. Does the Congress have a roadmap?
Obviously, we shall be working towards strengthening the party and boosting the morale of party workers, not only in the state but also at the national level. Also, the only way forward for the Congress is to adopt a model of inclusive and collective leadership and decision-making at all levels. Even in the meeting with Rahul Gandhi, it was decided that party leaders should accept collective responsibility for the party’s performance everywhere and fight the upcoming polls collectively.
How do you see AAP’s resolution on Chandigarh?
It is nothing but political gimmick. It is not the first time that such a resolution was moved and passed by the Punjab Vidhan Sabha. In fact, the Union government’s role in this also needs to be seen. The manner in which Haryana’s share in the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) was cut off is also condemnable. After 2014, there has not been a single recruitment from Haryana in BBMB. Apart from this AAP resolution that means nothing, it is the responsibility of the Union government to settle the SYL (Sutlej-Yamuna Link) issue and then talk about the other issues that are a bone of contention between the two states.
But shouldn’t the issues of SYL and Chandigarh have been settled long ago?
The Constitutional bench of the Supreme Court settled the SYL issue in 2016. It only needs to be executed, but Punjab is not doing so. Rather, it is the Centre’s responsibility to get the Supreme Court’s decision implemented. How will the country’s federal structure work if states don’t even honour the SC verdict? If this continues, tomorrow one of the states will shut down power supply, another will shut down water supply, somebody will shut down the road network… How will this federal structure function? It will collapse. States cannot go on bypassing the Supreme Court’s verdict by passing such resolutions. Haryana is only seeking its legitimate rights. We are not encroaching upon any other state’s rights. Punjab must, first of all, honour the Supreme Court’s verdict on SYL and then talk about the other two issues – transferring Hindi-speaking areas from Punjab to Haryana and the capital city.