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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Bhupinder Hooda’s last-ditch bid to force Congress hand for change of guard | Opinion

Rohtak Rally will not only decide Hooda’s course of action but also shape Congress’s fight in Haryana poll sweepstakes.

india Updated: Aug 17, 2019 21:12 IST
Ramesh Vinayak
Ramesh Vinayak
Hindustan Times, Mohali
In escalating his demand for change of leadership, Hooda is hoping to repeat the precedent of next door Punjab where Capt Amarinder Singh had, just before the 2017 assembly polls, forced the high command to jettison state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa and put him in the saddle.
In escalating his demand for change of leadership, Hooda is hoping to repeat the precedent of next door Punjab where Capt Amarinder Singh had, just before the 2017 assembly polls, forced the high command to jettison state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa and put him in the saddle.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
         

In the poll season, political parties hold rallies, unfailingly billed as a grand show, to galvanise the workers, mobilise the voters and stay ahead in the perception game.

But the Parivatran Maha Rally set up by Bhupinder Singh Hooda in his home turf of Rohtak on August 18 has an altogether different objective: To force the Congress high command’s hand for change of guard in Haryana ahead of the assembly elections due in October.

Sunday’s show of strength is two-time chief minister’s last-ditch bid to oust his bête-noire, state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, and get himself anointed as the face of the party’s campaign that is yet to pick up pace.

It also exposes how the party continues to be hamstrung by factional feud even after it drew a blank on the state’s 10 seats in the summer Lok Sabha elections swept by the BJP. While the Congress is still struggling to get its act together, a resurgent BJP is the first off the blocks in its determined bid to retain power for the second term.

PRESSURE TACTICS

Mounting a carefully-calibrated pressure on the high command, Hooda loyalists wasted no time hinting at a “big step” in the Rohtak rally, stoking speculation that he could part ways with the party and float his own outfit.

Though Hooda struck a non-committal stance on such an extreme step, but his posturing was loaded enough to press the alarm buttons in top Congress echelons.

It reportedly prompted working president Sonia Gandhi to step in a day before his rally to mollify the distraught state satrap who wields a powerful sway in the party.

At least 13 of the party’s 17 MLAs are in the Hooda camp which has been gunning for Tanwar, a Dalit face, ever since he was put at the helm of the party six months before it lost power to the BJP in 2014.

Whether the high command will acquiesce to Hooda, seen to be playing hardball, will be known from the pitch he makes at the Rohtak rally for which he and his son, former MP Deepender Hooda, have pulled out all stops to muster crowds. Neither any central party leader nor Tanwar have been invited.

RETURN OF THE OLD GUARD

In escalating his demand for change of leadership, Hooda is hoping to repeat the precedent of next door Punjab where Capt Amarinder Singh had, just before the 2017 assembly polls, forced the high command to jettison state party chief Partap Singh Bajwa and put him in the saddle. Incidentally, both Bajwa and Tanwar were hand-picked by Rahul Gandhi as part of his generational shift in the party.

The reasons behind Hooda’s renewed Topple Tanwar tirade – so far stonewalled by Rahul – are not hard to fathom. He is facing the heat of a string of CBI and Vigilance cases of shady land deals during his 10-year tenure as chief minister.

In his calculation, the appointment as PCC chief and projection as the party’s CM face in the assembly elections will not only help him fight the legal cases that he dubs as “political vendetta”, it would also redeem his fledgling political stock that suffered a major blow when the father-son duo lost in the Lok Sabha elections.

But the high command has no easy choices. Party leaders are leery about the message in the removal of a Dalit president just before the elections. Also, putting Hooda in the driver’s seat will expose the party to the BJP’s attack on the issue of corruption. A bigger worry is that yielding to Hooda’s pressure tactics can potentially undermine the already whittled-down high command and spark similar rebellion in other states.

Clearly, the Rohtak rally will be a decider not only for Hooda’s next course of action, but also the shape of the Congress’s fight in the Haryana poll sweepstakes. The party is running out of time to put its house in order.

First Published: Aug 17, 2019 20:41 IST