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Posted at: Aug 20, 2019, 6:55 AM; last updated: Aug 21, 2019, 12:47 AM (IST)

Ball in Sonia Gandhi’s court as Bhupinder Hooda watches and waits

Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 20

A day after Haryana Congress stalwart Bhupinder Singh Hooda flexed political muscle at a Rohtak rally signalling his readiness to break free of the mother organisation, party circles remained abuzz with talks of what the future might hold for him and the Haryana Congress.

With Hooda forming a committee and clarifying that he would do whatever the committee told him, the ball lies in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s court.

Both sides are weighing their options and both sides have left the room for negotiations. Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have dialled Hooda on the eve of the latter’s rally though the outcome of the conversation is unknown.

Likewise, Hooda bought time by announcing a committee which, he said, would take a while to submit its recommendations.

The space for dialogue, therefore, remains open, with Congress insiders clarifying that the issue would be addressed after the party is done marking a national-level celebration of late PM Rajiv Gandhi’s 75th birth anniversary on August 20.

Party strategists advised Hooda to postpone the press conference he is said to be planning at Chandigarh for August 22.

They also pointed to recent presence of Hooda at the AICC headquarters for the flag-hoisting by Sonia Gandhi on Independence Day saying Hooda did not have to come if he was sure he was leaving the Congress.

Within the Haryana unit too, most senior leaders feel incumbent state president Ashok Tanwar should be replaced with a new one ahead of elections.

“Tanwar has served his five-year term. And the party organisation in Haryana is in a shambles. There is a sense that he should be replaced but this is the high command’s call,” a senior Haryana Congress leader said expressing disappointment at Hooda’s comments that the Congress had lost its way.

State party leaders privately say Hooda owes much to Sonia Gandhi--two terms as state chief, a CLP term and two terms as CM. “When you owe so much to someone, you should not blackmail. The Hooda rally was announced before Sonia Gandhi assumed party presidency. It should have been cancelled so that Sonia Gandhi could take her time to make a decision,” a state leader said.

The Hooda camp has been seeking Tanwar’s replacement and installation of the former CM as state chief. It remains to be seen if Sonia will replace Tanwar, who stayed put all along because past president Rahul Gandhi was convinced that replacing a Dalit chief in poll-bound Haryana would send a wrong signal at a time of surging non-Jat politics in the state.

“The question before Sonia is whether to have a non-Jat or a Jat state chief. That’s the principal call she has to take,” said an insider, adding that Sonia is much more flexible on positions than Rahul, who is known to be rigid about both personal and political stands.

If the past is any indicator, Sonia may well accommodate Hooda in the new scheme of things in Haryana.

She has previously demonstrated her flexibility vis-a-vis state leaders by naming Capt Amarinder Singh as the chief of Punjab unit replacing incumbent Partap Singh Bajwa on the eve of the state elections. Bajwa was a trusted Rahul Gandhi aide but Sonia took her own call.

Also, on the eve of the Himachal Pradesh elections, Sonia largely went by the wishes of regional titan Virbhadra Singh who was at loggerheads with then state president Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, a Rahul loyalist.

Will Sonia repeat history in Haryana by accommodating BS Hooda? Insiders say she will decide soon.

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