Haryana: Bhupinder Hooda Meets Loyalists, May Decide to Leave Congress

The senior leader had earlier defied the party's stance on diluting Article 370, praising the Centre's move.

New Delhi: Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Tuesday moved a step closer to joining the league of his predecessors and multi-term CMs of the state – Bansi Lal, Devi Lal and Bhajan Lal – who quit the Congress to float new parties.

Despite having met interim party president Sonia Gandhi a few days ago to discuss the party’s leadership in Haryana, the former CM gave enough indications on Tuesday about an impending crisis when he convened a meeting of his loyalists. Those who attended the meeting at his residence in New Delhi included Congress MLAs and former MPs, MLAs and senior leaders of the state. The meeting was set up to receive feedback on whether leaving the Congress and floating a party would be a good idea for the group.

Earlier this month, Hooda, who for the past three years has been demanding the removal of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee president Ashok Tanwar, threatened serious action during a rally in his home turf of Rohtak. He declared that his future would be decided by his supporters. He subsequently, constituted a 36-member committee, headed by former minister H.S. Chatha.

Met Sonia Gandhi recently

The Congress had immediately swung into damage control and party in-charge of Haryana Ghulam Nabi Azad held discussions with Hooda. Hooda also met Sonia Gandhi, the interim party president. But that strategy does not have appeared to work.

The supporters of Jat-leader Hooda have been adamant on removing Tanwar, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste community, from the post. In the past, there have been violent clashes between supporters of the two leaders. In one such case, an FIR was also filed at the Tilak Marg police station in Delhi.

Though Hooda and Tanwar had shared the stage ahead of the Lok Sabha polls this year, following the BJP’s win in all Haryana’s ten seats, the bickering between has resumed. In a meeting called in June to evaluate the party’s performance, Tanwar was again heckled by Hooda’s supporters. He is learnt to have said that if the other side wants him to go so badly, they should rather shoot him.

Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar. Photo: PTI

The crisis in the party snowballed after the Modi government diluted provisions of Article 370 earlier in August. Since a large number of men from Haryana enrol in the security forces, and many serve in Jammu and Kashmir, Hooda did not toe the party line of criticising the removal of the special status.

Unilaterally declared he was CM candidate

But with the state assembly elections around the corner, the senior Congress leader appeared in no mood to relent. He announced the constitution of a committee and declared that he would be a chief ministerial candidate “with or without the Congress”. This was a surprise move, as the Congress’s central leadership takes the call on who would lead a state.

Also Read: Congress Leaders Deviate From Party Line on Article 370, Hail Centre’s Move in Kashmir

Hooda also raked up the Tanwar issue. Though the Congress wanted to assuage his feelings, it told Hooda in no uncertain terms that even if Tanwar were to be replaced, it would be by a “non-Jat”. There was then talk of former Union minister and now party Rajya Sabha MP Kumari Selja being given the job.

Incidentally, Jats constitute over 20% of the state’s population. The next largest composition is the Dalits. However, the Jats have dominated the state’s politics and most chief ministers have also been from the same caste.

Many CMs left Congress to float own parties

Before Manohar Lal Khattar, a former RSS pracharak, who was made CM of the state by the after the 2014 elections, the last non-Jat CM of the state was Bhajan Lal Bishnoi.

Bhajan Lal was a Janata Party CM of the state in 1980 when he defected en masse to the Congress after Indira Gandhi was elected as the prime minister. He also served as a Union minister in the Rajiv Gandhi cabinet before becoming CM of Haryana for the second time in 1991. After the Congress made Hooda the CM following its win in the 2005 assembly elections, Bhajan Lal quit the party and floated the Haryana Janhit Congress in 2007.

Before Bhajan Lal, Bansi Lal and Devi Lal had also quit the Congress to float their own parties. In a more than four-decade political career, Bansi Lal Legha served three terms as CM of Haryana – the first starting in 1968 and the last ending in 1996. He also held the Union defence, railways and transport portfolios in different Congress governments. He quit the party in 1996 and formed the Haryana Vikas Party.

Devi Lal began his career with the Congress but left in 1971. He first served as the CM when he was with Janata Party and later after forming the Lok Dal. He was also the deputy Prime Minister twice.