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Hooda tests Sonia line in Rohtak where she debuted 20 years ago

NEW DELHI: Within days of returning to head the Congress, Sonia Gandhi’s political quotient of being a party unifier will be tested in Rohtak, the Haryana town where she had made her political debut as the party’s chief election campaigner in 1998 by addressing a rally.

Ironically, the man who is testing the party high command now by organising a rebellious “parallel rally” in Rohtak on August 18 is the same Bhupinder Singh Hooda, whom Sonia Gandhi had preferred over the late Bhajan Lal to head the Congress government in the state from early 2005 to end-2014. The former chief minister’s move to organise the rally raises questions such as whether it is a precursor to splitting the state Congress to form a regional party ahead of the October assembly polls, or just a typical pre-poll bargaining ploy.

At a time when the Congress is facing desertions and convulsion in many state units, how Sonia Gandhi and her team will choose to handle the Hooda challenge is being closely watched in party circles as it will also indicate her attitude towards bargainers in her second stint — whether she will accommodate them or let them go of. The fact that the Sonia-Hooda ties had soured after the ex-CM refused to back party Rajya Sabha candidate RK Anand in 2016 and that Hooda, so far, has not invited any state or AICC leaders to his ‘Parivartan Maha Rally’ has added to the plot.

What makes the handling of the Rohtak challenge particularly delicate for Sonia Gandhi is that Hooda is seeking to replace state party chief Ashok Tanwar, appointed and protected by Sonia Gandhi’s son Rahul Gandhi for five years now against the former CM’s wishes.

Asked about his rally, Hooda told ET: “For five years, the BJP state government has failed to deliver on any of its promises. As the people are waiting for a credible alternate, there is a need to galvanise a credible opposition to the state regime before polls.”

On the kind of action-plan he would unveil at the rally, Hooda said: “We will have to rise to the expectations and sentiments of our supporters.”

Hooda’s Rohtak plan, which incidentally comes at a time when he is facing investigations by central agencies on certain land deals, has triggered a debate in the Congress that whether the former CM is also under pressure to walk out of the Congress. In that case, they ask, what would be the use of placating him by offering the Congress chief ’s post in the state, more so when not many are expecting the party to win the polls.

“The same people who had got everything from the party are now blackmailing the leadership, that too when there is an anti-Jat mood in Haryana politics,” said a leader of the state Congress.

Hooda is blowing hot and cold ahead of the rally. If his son, Deepender Hooda, supported the Centre’s action in J&K amid the Hooda camp travelling across the state for mobilising support for the Rohtak rally, on Thursday, Hooda Sr was at the AICC to attend Independence Day functions presided over by Sonia Gandhi.

Source: Economic Times