In his eagerness to replace Ashok Tanwar as the president of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee, former Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, appears to have inadvertently harmed himself. His inability to convince the party high command to name him as Tanwar’s successor is bound to have an impact on his own political prospects, and he may end up losing much more than what he may have ever anticipated. Kumari Selja, a Dalit, as was the person whom she has succeeded, is a light-weight and lacks both the potential as well as a clear overview at this stage to lead the organisation. She is close to Sonia Gandhi, but in the complex politics of Haryana, she would find it excessively difficult to meet the challenge posed by the BJP, which is all set to get a renewed five-year term, probably this time with a greater majority.
It is evident that the Congress high command did not give in to the intimidating remarks spouted by Hooda when he had recently criticised the leadership for straying from the party’s goals. There was speculation that he might form his own regional outfit if things did not work out the way he had envisaged. However, the top leadership was well aware that it was too late for him to undermine the Congress, particularly because he himself had lost the Lok Sabha elections from Sonepat, while simultaneously losing Rohtak. Things might have been different had he floated his own party a year ago, and it would have in all probability been at the cost of the Congress.
The way matters stand in Haryana, the BJP is enjoying a pro-incumbency factor. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar maintains a low profile, but is perceived largely to be fair and honest. He is given the credit for providing employment to a large number of people without being influenced by any political considerations. The Modi factor continues to be dominant, and in Haryana, it is no longer a Jat versus non-Jat issue.
It is considered a fact that had Hooda been handed the charge even six months ago, he would have managed to get the Jats to rally around the Congress. Given his family’s status in the state, many non-Jats would have been lured to the Congress as well. The BJP has played its cards well, and is recipient of support from non-Jats, which at one stage were aligned with the Congress. In addition, the younger generation of Jats voted in favour of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, largely because of Modi. In the present scenario, with the abrogation of Article 370, the entire state may stand behind the saffron brigade, with innumerable ex-servicemen and paramilitary personnel, past and present, endorsing the decision. A situation could emerge, where the combined opposition may find it difficult to make it to double figures during the Assembly elections expected to be held at the end of October.
Hooda’s followers are viewing the change in party leadership as a triumph of their leader who had wanted Tanwar to be replaced for the past year or so. However, his detractors perceive the developments differently. They believe that Hooda has failed to get himself nominated as the head of the state party unit and the other assurances granted to him are merely notional. At best, as the head of the CLP, he may end up being the Leader of Opposition, provided the Congress secures nine out of the 90 seats in the Assembly. Contrary to what is being projected, even in the distribution of tickets, the top leadership will interfere, thus not allowing him to have his way.
The Congress high command’s thinking appears to be that if the Jats and Dalits vote collectively, the party’s nominees will do fairly well. Therefore, if Tanwar was to be substituted, it would have to be with another Dalit so that right signals went out to the community. What needs to be factored in is that firstly neither Selja nor Tanwar is regarded as front ranking Dalit leaders. Secondly, in Haryana, it was obvious in the Parliamentary elections that the Dalits and at least 30% of Jats voted as Hindus, rather than on the basis of their communities. This pattern may continue. With Article 370 and the Ram Mandir issue taking a front seat, senior Jats may also be supportive of the BJP.
Hooda has been a two-time Chief Minister and had defeated Chaudhury Devi Lal from Rohtak several times. His stature is unrivalled, but for him to be elected the primary leader of Haryana, he should have reviewed his relationship with the Congress at least six months back. Just as Captain Amarinder Singh had made it amply clear to the Congress high command in 2016 itself that he would need a free rein to deliver, Hooda, last year, should have taken a similar position. The delay is going to come at a high cost, and it would be naive if one has to draw consolation from the fact that Selja was solely going to be a dummy, controlled by him and his team.
Unfortunately for the Congress, the economy being in a state of shambles, is not going to be a paramount issue in the Haryana elections, where the BJP is poised for a big and impressive victory. Several Congress MLAs are willing to switch sides if they receive a ticket from the saffron brigade. Needless to say, a BJP nomination is a vastly safe bet. Between us.