IT’S A long way from Petwar in Hisar to Mumbai. However, twice now, as drama has swirled around the Maharashtra government’s survival, one of the characters at the heart of it has been a politician from this Haryana village, Sonia Doohan.
On Saturday, the 30-year-old national president of the NCP students’ wing was held along with an aide for allegedly using fake identification documents to check into Hotel Taj Resort and Convention Centre in Dona Paula, Goa, where Shiv Sena MLAs who had rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray were staying. The two got bail on Sunday.
It was Doohan who was at the fore in November 2019 too when the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis had tried to form the government with the NCP’s Ajit Pawar, after the Assembly poll results threw up a split verdict. Doohan was credited with “rescuing” four NCP MLAs from right under the BJP’s nose from a hotel in Gurgaon, Haryana.
The NCP has denied the claims of the Goa Police that Doohan and aide Shray Kothiyal (28), who belongs to Dehradun, used fake papers to try gain entry into the hotel where the rebel Shiv Sena MLAs were put up. NCP youth wing national president Dheeraj Sharma said the two were just “tourists” and were being “harassed” by the BJP Goa government for no reason.
On Doohan allegedly using “fake papers”, Sharma said: “They (the authorities) were keeping an eye on Sonia because she had played an important role in the fall of the three-day BJP government (in Maharashtra) in 2019…. When Sonia came to Goa, she got to know that there was very tight security at the hotel and no one with Maharashtra or political IDs was being allowed. So the two of them checked in with Kothiyal’s ID, he paid with his card, the booking was in his name. Sonia used the identity card of Shrey’s wife Shruti Narang. It was not a fake document.”
On whether Doohan was in Goa at the NCP’s behest, Sharma said their student wing national president was senior enough to take her own decisions and did not require permission from anyone in the party.
NCP spokesperson and observer and co-in-charge of Goa unit of the party, Clyde Crasto, said the party was not aware of Doohan’s movements, but added: “The rebel MLAs were taken there (to the hotel in Goa) suddenly. When someone has made a booking in advance, you cannot cancel it. The two could have been there for tourism… Just because she is the president of the NCP students’ wing does not mean you always put two and two togther.”
NCP’s District President, North Goa, Shankar Phadte claimed Doohan and Kothiyal were accosted by “unknown persons” in their hotel room. “They said they were Crime Branch officers. Sonia Doohan was abused in the most filthy language and Shrey Kothiyal was beaten,” Phadte alleged, adding that they were in the process of filing a complaint over the way Doohan and Kothiyal were treated.
Sources said that the MLAs, now back in Mumbai with their leader and the newly sworn in Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, were tipped off that a woman linked to the NCP was at the hotel and making enquiries about them. The court granted them bail against a personal bond of Rs 20,000 and a surety of the same amount each, apart from the condition that they not leave Goa for the next few days.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Doohan denied the allegations, adding: “The police along with Black Cat Commandos and workers of a political party picked me up from the hotel room at 5.30 am on Saturday. They treated me like a terrorist. For hours, the Intelligence Bureau and police questioned me… It’s an attempt to suppress the voice of youth. What was the need to treat me like a terrorist?”
Doohan’s Instagram page prominently features a newspaper article detailing her role in the 2019 government formation drama. That was just one year after she took over as president of its students’ wing, despite the NCP not having much of a presence in Haryana. Proud of that, Doohan says: “I am the first girl from Haryana who was given the responsibility of president of the students’ wing of any national political party.”
Closer home, acquaintances are not surprised that the “feisty” youngster has made her way in politics despite her humble beginnings as the eldest of three siblings of a farming family. She did her schooling in the village before moving to Ambala to do graduation from Kurukshetra University. For a while, she trained as a pilot in Pune, which is when she got involved in student politics.
Doohan lives in Gurgaon now, to be close to the NCP office in Delhi, but keeps visiting her village Petwar and participating in local events. A villager, Sunil Kumar, says Doohan takes an active interest in girl education.
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Doohan told The Indian Express that she hopes for a day when women feel safe alone at night on the streets, same as in Pune or Mumbai. “I tell parents of girls that when you ask them to become doctors, pilots, engineers or teachers, you should ask them to become politicians too. Till, the girls don’t become politicians, the upliftment of women is impossible,” she said.
Doohan clearly proved herself up to the task, against those steeped far deeper in politics, during the 2019 episode. Describing it in great detail, she recounted: “We booked a room on every floor of the Gurgaon hotel except the fifth, where no one was allowed because the MLAs were kept there. That floor had nearly 50 security personnel in civilian dress apart from local administrative officials, and 60-70 political workers, who kept a close watch on visitors. We first looked for escape routes where there were no CCTV cameras. Then messages were sent to the MLAs who had expressed their willingness to come out. We came to know that there were plans to move the MLAs to Manesar the next day. So, without any delay, we initiated taking them out from the back door, which was linked to another hotel. We took out one MLA silently. A hungama started when we were taking out two more. I left my car and took another car from the gate of the hotel for the two MLAs.”
About how they took the MLAs from the hotel, Doohan said: “We had arranged six cars outside the hotel and three at the Delhi border. With the two MLAs, I rushed towards the residence of Sharad Pawar in Delhi at full speed during night hours despite police patrol vehicles following us. The fourth MLA, who was quite old, was rescued at 2:30 am in the night. During the process, this MLA was assaulted too.”
Warming up to the topic during a recent visit to her village, Doohan was wishful: “Probably, a movie will be made on this episode.”