Chandigarh: The Congress appears to have learnt its lessons from the Scindia disaster. Moving to pre-empt any such revolt in Haryana, the party high command late Thursday picked Deepender Hooda, the son of former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, as its nominee for the Rajya Sabha from the state.
Deepender has been selected ahead of state Congress president Kumari Selja, a well-known Sonia Gandhi loyalist. As a sitting Rajya Sabha member, Selja was widely tipped to secure a second term.
But the decision of Madhya Pradesh leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to quit the party and join the BJP appears to have compelled the Congress high command to change tack and make amends.
Other important aspirants for the Rajya Sabha nomination included party spokesman Randeep Surjewala or a relative of Kuldeep Bishnoi, who had tweeted that more Congress felt alienated just as Scindia had.
The Congress’ decision to pick Deepender over the other contenders also signals the party’s official acknowledgement that the Hoodas dominate Haryana politics.
The Congress leadership has clearly bowed to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of party MLAs in the state who back the father-son duo.
The MLAs have good reason for the support — despite being written off, the Congress bagged 31 of the 90 seats in the assembly elections last year. There was little doubt that the dramatic revival was due to Bhupinder Hooda who had only taken over the reins of the party two weeks before the elections on 21 October.
But for Hooda, the Congress may not have crossed the double digit mark in the state, especially if it had continued banking on former party chief Ashok Tanwar, who was Hooda’s bete noire in the state.
The party decision was welcomed in the state unit.
“Since it’s a unanimous choice, his victory is assured. Deepender had lost by a very small margin in the parliamentary elections but despite that defeat, he had worked extremely hard during the assembly elections and made sure that the Congress won in Rohtak and Sonepat districts,” said senior MLA Geeta Bhukkal. “He is the right choice for Rajya Sabha. But knowing Hooda Saab, I know that had the ticket gone to someone else, he would have respected the choice of the high command.”
A close aide of Bhupinder Hooda added that the central leadership also needed to tap the ‘potential of the former chief minister. “Mr. Hooda should be given a free hand in leading the party in Haryana,” he said.
The Hoodas’ troubles with high command
The Hoodas have not enjoyed a great relationship with the party high command, especially with regard to their feud with Tanwar.
The former chief minister had the support of the majority of party MLAs but was consistently ignored by the high command in the five years of BJP rule, while Tanwar called the shots. Tanwar had the backing of Rahul Gandhi.
The party cadre as a result were divided into two distinct camps, with Tanwar and Hooda indulging in ugly public battles. There was also further fragmentation with Bishnoi, Kiran Chaudhary, the daughter-in-law of former chief minister Bansi Lal, and Surjewala leading their own tiny groups.
It was not until Bhupinder Hooda virtually served notice of quitting the party and organised a massive public rally in Rohtak in August 2019 that a chastened central leadership reached out to the former chief minister.
Apart from feeling marginalised, Bhupinder Hooda, who was facing criminal cases after his term as chief minister had ended, felt his party, specially the Gandhi family, did not stand up for him.
Had Scindia not quit, rocking the boat, Selja may well have been the Congress nominee.
Deepender, on his part, is not just his father’s son. He has been a three-time MP from Rohtak. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Deepender was the only Congress candidate to prevent a BJP sweep in Haryana, retaining his Rohtak seat. The Congress had lost nine of the 10 parliamentary seats in those polls.
In the 2019 Parliamentary polls, Deepender lost his seat by a narrow margin with the BJP winning all 10 seats.
He should now secure a Rajya Sabha berth with 28 of the 31 Congress MLAs solidly backing the Hoodas. With the older Hooda leading the party in the state and the younger Hooda entering the Rajya Sabha, the Hoodas’ political future seems assured, at least for the time being.