Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is at the centre of Congress’ electoral activity in the state which goes to polls on 21 October. The party, which failed to open its account in the state in the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, is taking on a politically resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar in the state.
Hooda spoke to Mint at his residence in Rohtak on a range of issues related to elections, including Congress’ poll pitch, whether the party has recovered from the Lok Sabha drubbing and on the contentious issue of internal troubles within the party where he refused to comment on the recent statements by party’s former state unit chief Ashok Tanwar against him. Edited excerpts:
Q) How do you see Congress' prospects in Haryana?
A) Congress is going to form government in Haryana this time. People are fed up with the present BJP government. Every section of society. When they formed government, they made 154 promises and they have not fulfilled even a single one.
Q) What do you think will work in Congress favour?
A) Our earlier government worked a lot for farmers, financial assistance. We ran schemes for socially backward communities. They have not done anything, even government employees are upset. Our achievements (of previous government) and their failures will define this election. Every section of the society is unhappy and the law and order situation too has suffered. They have done nothing on ground.
Q) Congress' performed poorly in the Lok Sabha polls, do you think party has recovered from it?
A) No, no. That was in Lok Sabha where the issues were different. In assembly, it is different. Now, people are asking what promises state government has completed, what development they have done.
Q) But, do you think Congress has recovered from the loss...
A) I am telling you that Congress will form government. Without recovering, how can we form government? The present government has failed except event management, they have done nothing on the ground.
Q) What is going to be the key focus of Congress in Haryana's poll campaign?
A) Failure of the current government and achievements of our earlier government will be the key focus of our campaign. Our focus is on what we are going to do when voted to power. Whatever we provided in our manifestos of 2005 and 2009, we had fulfilled each and every promise. The BJP government has not fulfilled any of its commitments. One can compare the manifestos.
Q) What about manifesto promises?
A) This time, in our manifesto, we have said that in 24 hours of being voted to power we will waive of farm loans like we did in other party ruled states. The mockery that this government has made of old age pensions - we will fix that and give Rs. 5100 to old people. Young students belonging to scheduled castes (SC) from class 1 to class 12, we will give them financial assistance of Rs. 10 lakh per year. We are also giving assistance to unemployed youth. We have also promised simplification of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Q) Congress has been facing internal troubles within the party...
A) There is no problem.
Q) Ashok Tanwar made some comments and allegations...
A) These are individual comments, I would not like to say anything.
Q) He was a former PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee) chief of Haryana...
A) There are so many former PCC chiefs, I am also a former PCC chief.
Q) But he has named you in some of the allegations he made...
A) No, nobody has named me.
Q) In Delhi, he held a press conference where he said that Haryana Congress has turned in to "Hooda Congress" and he has alleged that he could not work on the ground because there were seniors in the party who did not let him work.
A) I don't have anything to say.
Q) Do you think allegations like these in the middle of the elections could impact Congress' prospects?
A) What are these allegations? This is no allegation.
Q) He has alleged that there has been corruption in ticket distribution.
A) Is that against me?
Q) He has accused the party in the state?
A) Then the party president has to respond to that. I don't comment on such issues.
Q) This is the first time that BJP has completed a five year term in Haryana. How does the Congress counter the 'decisive government' pitch of BJP?
A) But, what decision have they taken, what development they have done? The loan to the exchequer has increased in the last 5 years, they have not done any development, no infrastructure growth, they are only spending on event management.
Q) How do you see the abrogation of Article 370 as an issue in the state polls. BJP has been talking about it in its campaign.
A) It has become a law now. There was a time when I had my views and I made them public. Now it is a law and nobody opposes law.
Q) In the last two elections, Jat reservation has been a key issue. Do you think Congress has been over cautious in taking a political stand on it?
A) Congress gave reservation to everyone, including that on economic grounds. They (BJP) changed the affidavit in Supreme Court and gave false promises. It is not an issue in this election now and it has already been done. What is their stand? What the centre did with 10% reservation on economic grounds, I was one of the first ones to do it.
Q) With the appointment of Khattar as chief minister, there is a view that the political narrative in the state is reshaping along the lines of Jats versus non-Jats.
A) That is all myth. Any development that is done is for access to everyone whether it is hospitals or schools or universities or metros - every section of the society benefits from it. This narrative is just to fetch votes of people and nothing else.
Q) Are you hopeful that all three leaders - Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will campaign in this election?
A) The programmes are being made and it should be finalised soon.
Q) What is the response you are getting on the ground when you are going for campaigning?
A) We are getting enthusiastic response, people are looking towards Congress largely because this government has failed. People are looking towards us with the hope that we will form government.
Q) BJP is pitching Khattar as a 'popular' chief minister. Do you think it would have helped if Congress had announced a chief ministerial candidate in this election?
A) In Lok Sabha elections, no one even talked about the chief minister of Haryana. Then how is this a popular government? If it was popular, people would have spoken about their performance.
Q) Do you think announcing a chief ministerial candidate would have helped Congress' prospects because elections are increasingly seen as a personality fight?
A) See, people understand everything. Whether it is Congress or BJP. The sitting chief minister is naturally a declared face. In the run up to the polls, Khattar was also not declared as a CM candidate, nor was I when I took over as CM in 2005. So, what is new this time? The elected MLAs and high command will chose the chief minister. But first, our objective is to form government.
Q) This is the first state election after the change in party's central leadership as Rahul Gandhi made way for Sonia Gandhi in August this year. What kind of an impact do you think it could have on the ground?
A) Whoever has been the Congress president, has contributed to the party.
Q) There are a lot of state units of Congress where the younger leaders have raised a banner of revolt against veteran leaders. How do you look at it?
A) Congress is made up of leadership from all generations - old and young. There is a good balance and these are individual views.