Bhupinder Singh Hooda's rebellious note against the Congress central leadership, accusing it having "lost its way" is not just a simple instance of a party leader's disillusionment with the organisation with which he has been associated for the better part of his life.
Hooda has the distinction of being the first political leader in Haryana who served two consecutive terms as the chief minister of the state spanning a decade. No other leader has been able to achieve it yet in the state. As a Jat strongman, Hooda has always remained the Congress connect with the ground in Haryana. His son Deepender Singh Hooda has been a three-term MP and is perceived to be close to former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
There is little doubt that Narendra Modi wave swept the Congress out of power in the 2014 Assembly election in Haryana and in the 2019 parliamentary polls. Since October 2014 Congress has been on the margins in the state with little signs of a revival but a public rebellion by its seniormost leader in the state is worrisome for the party for more than one reason.
First, it should be noted that he struck a defiant note immediately after Sonia Gandhi was brought back from virtual retirement from active politics to once again occupy Congress president post. It requires no inside understanding of the Congress to conclude that Hooda was Sonia's nominee for the post of chief minister of Haryana when Sonia was president of the party in her earlier stint and UPA was ruling the country. Hooda remained chief minister from March 2005 to October 2014.
By holding a public rally at his home turf Rohtak without informing the central and state leadership, he has virtually moved a no-confidence motion against Sonia.
Second, by supporting the Modi government on abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A in Jammu and Kashmir, he has not only defied collective wisdom of the Congress Central Working Committee, which had adopted a resolution blasting the Centre on the issue, but also challenged both the Gandhi siblings Rahul and Priyanka who had come down harshly against the Central government.
Third, what should worry Congress more than losing a strong leader and the face in Haryana is the fact that Hooda is the leader who had allegedly thrown all caution to the wind to help the Gandhi family in re-allotment of a 3,500 square metre plot of land in Institutional Area, Panchkula for National Herald ignoring the law department's advice against the move. The National Herald case is now sub-judice with both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi out on bail. They stand accused of appropriating assets worth crores.
The plot was originally granted in August 1982 for publishing a newspaper and the construction was to be completed by August 1984. In 1992, the Bhajan Lal (Congress) government in the state withdrew the allocation from National Herald. The Congress central leadership couldn't regain possession after successive governments of Bansi Lal and Om Prakash Chautala but Hooda in 2005 took the onus onto himself (on petitions filed by family loyalist Motilal Vora) and worked on a mission mode to re-allocate the land to National Herald. Significantly, the reallocation was done at the same charges that were applicable 25 years ago.
Fourth, Hooda facilitated plenty of benefits to Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi's husband Robert Vadra. The then chief minister allegedly circumvented all norms as if his survival to the post rested in granting undue, unwarranted favours to Vadra, involving his company Skylight Hospitality and DLF.
Hooda's alleged role in the illegal grants of licences to hundreds of private companies, including Vadra's land case is under investigation by the Justice SN Dhingra Commission.
Fifth, the possibility of Hooda launching his own regional outfit in poll-bound Haryana will have its own implication but prospects of larger damage loom large on Congress, particularly for the Gandhi family if the former chief minister decides to cooperate with investigating agencies.