From leading an open rebellion against his party high command to being the face of a resurgent Congress in Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda has left little room for anyone else to be in the spotlight.
And so, it should come as no surprise that the former Haryana chief minister is ThePrint’s newsmaker of the week.
Hooda took charge of the Congress’ campaign barely two weeks before Haryana was scheduled to vote in the 21 October election. The odds were stacked heavily against him. Opinion polls and political experts had all but declared the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar a winner.
But Hooda wasn’t deterred. Days before the election, the Congress stalwart, sources said, had promised the party high command he would win them 35 seats in the 90-member Haryana assembly. The Congress won 31 seats, more than double its 2014 tally of 15 seats.
The former chief minister rallied his troops, leading from the front. In the week before Haryana voted, Hooda’s chopper ferried him from one assembly constituency to another. There were days when the 72-year-old leader attended as many as 17 public meetings and rallies, never once cancelling an event.
Hooda knew, said one of his aides, that the key to winning the election was to establish a connect with people. In his own constituency, Garhi Sampla-Kiloi, he told a crowd of awed spectators: “When you elect me, make sure it is with a margin greater than that of CM Khattar.” And they did. He defeated BJP’s Satish Nandal by a margin of more than 58,000 votes, as against Khattar’s winning margin of a little over 45,000 in Karnal.
Hooda was always confident of the Congress’ success in the state. In an interview with ThePrint, he had said that defections and factionalism in the party’s Haryana unit won’t affect the Congress’ chances in the election.
Scuttled by the party
Ever since his son Deepender’s loss in the family bastion of Rohtak in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Hooda senior has been was on a warpath. When Deepender hailed the Modi government’s move to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status through Article 370, Hooda senior came out in his support, calling the decision as one taken in ‘national interest’.
मेरा पहले से ये विचार रहा है कि 21वी सदी मे अनुच्छेद 370 का औचित्य नही है और इसको हटना चाहिये।ऐसा देश की अखण्डता व जम्मू-कश्मीर की जनता जो हमारे देश का अभिन्न अंग है के हित मे भी है।
मगर पूर्णत: मौजूदा सरकार की ज़िम्मेदारी है की इस का क्रियान्वरण शांति व विश्वास के वातावरण मे हो pic.twitter.com/6A7i1l5KNn
— Deepender S Hooda (@DeependerSHooda) August 5, 2019
Bhupinder Hooda didn’t just stop there. He went on to add that the Congress party had ‘lost its way’.
His unhappiness with the party had reached a tipping point, Congress leaders had told ThePrint. Many believed Hooda was set to form his own regional outfit because the high command was not ceding to his demands: remove Ashok Tanwar from the post of party’s Haryana chief and declare him as the CM candidate. Hooda maintained that Tanwar’s leadership had been ineffective, and was running the party into the ground.
Congress, which by now was under the charge of Sonia Gandhi, gave way, but only a little. It made Hooda leader of the Congress Legislative Party, which empowered him to monitor ticket distribution in Haryana.
But controversy returned to haunt Hooda when a video of colleague Ahmed Patel allegedly asking him and party’s Haryana in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad about ticket distribution went viral on 3 October.
It became clear that the Congress mandate in Haryana would be a testament to Hooda’s success, or failure.
Distanced by the Gandhis
While Hooda was addressing rally after rally, Congress’ central leadership could hardly be seen on the ground in Haryana.
At Rahul Gandhi’s first public event as part of the election campaign in Nuh, Hooda was sent an implicit message – don’t change your schedule to attend it. At his second, where Rahul Gandhi stood in for his mother Sonia, who had cancelled her only rally in the state, Hooda was missing despite the event being listed on his official schedule.
It’s been two days now since the election result has been declared, but neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul have commented on the Congress’ performance in Haryana. Sonia conveyed her best wishes for Diwali Friday but there has been no word on the result so far. As for Rahul Gandhi, it is no secret in Congress circles that he is upset with Hooda over the ouster of Ashok Tanwar.
The only one to have commented so far is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who told reporters in Rae Bareli that she was very happy with the results in Maharashtra and Haryana even as the counting was still on.
With 31 seats, the Congress has definitely managed to make a lot of noise in the political landscape of Haryana but it is the silence of the Gandhis that is most deafening.