Long before the Haryana assembly elections, the nonchalant Congress top guns in Delhi had already conceded defeat. The mood in the rank and file was far from upbeat. But Bhupinder Singh Hooda, 71, the two-time former chief minister, saw this as a now or never opportunity for he had sensed the pulse of the unpredictable Haryanvi electorate.
On the backfoot after the BJP defeated the Congress in October 2014, Hooda’s political troubles escalated with the Manohar Lal Khattar government stepping up the heat by probing corruption in land deals during his tenure. The Congress high command also sidelined him, leading him on the path of rebellion.
Weeks before the October 21 elections, Hooda burnt bridges with the Congress central leadership when he announced at a rally in Rohtak that the party had lost direction on Article 370 abrogation and the Kashmir issue.
HIS SHOW ALL THE WAY
Hooda admits that he first sensed the anti-BJP sentiment in the state when he rolled out the rath yatra last year. The yatra was his attempt to send out a clear message to the party high command about the mass support he still enjoyed ahead of the elections.
It was this confidence that forced Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi to entrust the Jat leader with the party’s campaign in the state last month. Less than 45 days on, he not only spearheaded the campaign to emerge within the striking range but also halted the overconfident BJP’s juggernaut.
The verdict also silenced Hooda’s critics within the Congress. Even in their hour of glory, most winning Congress leaders can have no illusion as to whose victory this really is. During the campaign, the Congress nominees played their bit roles and said their lines but right from the story line to the climax, it was Hooda’s show all the way.
Hooda won from Garhi-Sampla-Kiloi seat by a margin of 58,074 votes.
COUNTING ON RESPONSE
Such was the Congress central leadership’s stance towards Haryana that party leader Rahul Gandhi addressed only two rallies. The state leaders and candidates were left to fend for themselves.
Hooda single-handedly criss-crossed the state and touched all 90 assembly segments where his rallies evoked an unexpectedly good response.
Talking to HT, Hooda expressed surprise at the enthusiastic response he was getting. While campaigning in Hisar and Fatehabad districts, he said the Congress was in a position to reach the half-way mark. “I’ve covered 25 segments from Naraingarh to Narnaund and am happy with the response. The only problem is the lack of time. Otherwise…,” he said.
On Thursday, Haryana proved him right when the Congress rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes.
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