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Monday, Dec 09, 2019

Haryana election result: Did Congress miss a trick by bringing in Hooda too late in the day?

The party replaced state chief Ashok Tanwar, who remained at the helm for six years, with former Union minister Kumari Selja, and named Hooda as the head of the election management committee, on September 4 — six weeks before the October 21 polls.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 24, 2019 12:32 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Hooda, in a short span of time, appears to have ensured that the Congress has regained lost ground and is giving a tough fight to the BJP, which otherwise seemed set for a resounding majority. (Photo @INCHaryana)
Hooda, in a short span of time, appears to have ensured that the Congress has regained lost ground and is giving a tough fight to the BJP, which otherwise seemed set for a resounding majority. (Photo @INCHaryana)
         

Early trends suggest that the Congress, which appears to be doing much better in Haryana than most exit polls predicted by leading in about 35 seats in the 90-member assembly, may have missed a trick by handing over the election management to former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda too late in the day.

The party replaced state chief Ashok Tanwar, who remained at the helm for six years, with former Union minister Kumari Selja, and named Hooda as the head of the election management committee, on September 4 — six weeks before the October 21 polls.

So, the 72-year-old Hooda and 57-year-old Selja, got exactly 47 days to bring the Congress back in fight against a strong Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its popular chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

For full coverage of Haryana, Maharashtra assembly elections 2019, Click here.

Till then, the Congress was hit by massive infighting, with Hooda and Tanwar crossing swords, and its election machinery was completely missing from the ground.

But Hooda, in a short span of time, appears to have ensured that the Congress has regained lost ground and is giving a tough fight to the BJP, which otherwise seemed set for a resounding majority.

According to senior leaders in the party, the Congress was thinking of removing Tanwar as its Haryana chief since 2017, when the then party general secretary in-charge Kamal Nath recommended his immediate replacement.

Since Tanwar, who is considered close to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, took over in January 2014, the party was wiped out in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls in 2014, and the general elections in 2019, besides several local body elections. It failed to open its account the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, losing 10-0 to the BJP.

In the run to the assembly elections, it was clear that Hooda had run out of patience. The indecisiveness on the part of the Congress top leadership forced him to issue a warning that he will walk out if the party does not change guard immediately. He made his intentions clear by going against the party’s official line and supporting the Union government’s move to nullify Article 370, which accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

In a massive rally in Rohtak on August 18, which was his way of showing his strength, Hooda also served an ultimatum to the Congress to take an immediate decision on the leadership change in the state and formed a committee of his loyalists to take a call on his future course of action.

The Congress leadership finally relented, and restructured the party in a fine balancing act. While Hooda was asked to manage the elections, Selja, a Dalit, replaced fellow Dalit leader Tanwar, who quit the party and extended support to the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) of Dushyant Chautala.

Asked about the delay, the standard reply of Hooda, a two-term chief minister and arguably the most influential Jat leader of Haryana, has been “better late than never”. But early leads indicate that a few more months on the ground for the Jat leader may indeed have turned the tide towards the Congress in the state.