Why Gandhis’ Treatment Of Captain Amarinder Singh Should Be A Wake Up Call For Bhupinder Singh Hooda

Why Gandhis’ Treatment Of Captain Amarinder Singh Should Be A Wake Up Call For Bhupinder Singh HoodaFormer Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda AFP PHOTO/SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Captain Amarinder Singh seems to have managed well with Sonia Gandhi at the helm of affairs, but there is no love lost between him and the new darbar emerging around Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

    In Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda faces a similar situation.

Without elections, the political fortunes of so many netas have, perhaps, never changed so dramatically and so quickly as they are doing at present in India.

Installation of a new chief minister by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttarakhand in the form of Pushkar Singh Dhami, a comprehensive overhaul by the Narendra Modi government in the Union cabinet, which saw exits of 12 ministers, including Vajpayee-era ministers such as Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad, the resignation of BS Yediyurappa as Karnataka Chief Minister and replacing Sarbananda Sonowal with Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam would definitely force some politicians to reach out to pandits for their kundali reading.

There were rumours of trouble (disaffection among some sections of BJP leaders) in Uttar Pradesh and Tripura BJP units too, though they have been managed for now.

The churning is not limited to the BJP alone. The Congress has made a bold move in Punjab by appointing Navjot Singh Sidhu as president of its state unit, much to the displeasure of Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (also a Sidhu), who was hoping to lead the Congress into polls next year as its undisputed leader.

Now, with the promotion of recent import Sidhu, who joined the party only before last the Assembly elections in 2017, a big question mark has been put on Captain continuing as Punjab CM if the party wins.

With as many as 62 sitting MLAs attending the breakfast meeting with Sidhu at his residence in Amritsar on 21 July, he has shown that his elevation is not unjustified.

More importantly, the show of strength by Sidhu leaves little doubt on who the high command in Delhi would choose as next CM if the Congress returns to power.

The fact that an overwhelming majority of MLAs paid obeisance to him at his house on one call shows his popularity on the ground and that they clearly see him as someone whose coattails they can ride to win in their constituencies again.

In the popularity contest, Captain seems to have ceded a lot of ground to him. There is no other reason why the former would tolerate the latter’s elevation as PCC chief without putting up a strong fight.

In 2015, the same Captain, thanks to the support of the MLAs, was able to get Pratap Singh Bajwa replaced as state unit president.

While the Congress decision to anoint Sidhu as its next leader in Punjab appears rooted in realpolitik, when has the Gandhi family chose its state leaders based on popularity alone? In fact, it might be a big hindrance if the popular leader isn’t completely faithful and servile to the family and doesn’t goes out of his way to show it.

Captain Amarinder Singh, perhaps because he is a proud retired military man and whose father was the last maharaja of the princely state of Patiala, has found it difficult to behave like a Gandhi family sycophant.

This hasn’t gone down well with the high command. The reports of tension between the two have been too abundant in the last five years to ignore.

While he seems to have managed well with Sonia Gandhi at the helm of affairs, there is no love lost between him and the new darbar emerging around Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra.

In Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda faces a similar situation. He was made CM in 2005 after Congress won two-thirds' majority.

Gandhis sidelined three-time CM Bhajan Lal even though he had the backing of a majority of MLAs. Hooda’s stock remained sky high in Sonia Gandhi’s darbar when the likes of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and Janardan Dwivedi ruled the roost.

Still, it didn’t stop Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from keeping Hooda’s rivals Kiran Chaudhary, Randeep Surjewala and Kumari Selja close.

In the run-up to the 2019 elections in Haryana, Hooda came close to breaking up the party and going on his own when the Congress high command dithered on giving him full control.

He and his son even held a massive rally in Ghana as a show of strength where they defied the party on the issue of Article 370 revocation by openly supporting the Narendra Modi government’s decision.

In the end, Delhi darbar had to give in to his demands and give full power to him in ticket distribution. Now, the tensions have again started rising between Hooda and the high command as the state level units are set to be rejigged after six years down to the district level.

First, 19 Congress MLAs (out of total 31) loyal to Hooda met AICC Haryana in charge Vivek Bansal and later more MLAs met KC Venugopal (Congress leader in charge of Haryana affairs) demanding a bigger role for Hooda in upcoming appointments.

Currently, Hooda’s rivals — state unit chief Kumari Selja (close to Sonia Gandhi) and Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala (close to Rahul Gandhi) — are in important positions of authority within the party apparatus.

There is apprehension among Hooda’s followers that Gandhis may do a Bhajan Lal with Hooda and install Surjewala as CM if Congress comes to power with a thumping majority in 2024.

That’s the reason Hooda is fighting every perceived erosion of authority in Haryana Congress unit. The slew of corruption cases against him don’t help — Manesar land scam, Panchkula industrial land allotment scam, Rohtak land acquisition scam, Associated Journal Ltd plot allotment scam and Ullahwas land scam. Chargesheets have been filed in three of these.

All this makes him more vulnerable.

It’s unlikely that the party would go into the next polls without him as the leader, but it’s highly likely that it might appoint a new face after winning. Hooda is banking on the fact that he will get to distribute most of the tickets and the winning candidates would back him, but in 2005 too, a majority of the MLAs were with Bhajan Lal and after Hooda was appointed, everyone fell in line mainly because of the promises of sinecures in the new government, and for other factions, getting rid of Bhajan Lal was the priority.

Now, Hooda has assumed that place in Haryana Congress.

The treatment meted out to Captain in neighbouring Punjab should be a wake up call for Hooda.

Arihant Pawariya is Senior Editor, Swarajya.
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