PCC chief Kumari Selja also did her bit by keeping the focus on local issues.
New Delhi: More than the BJP forming the government, it was the resurgence of the Congress that made news in this round of Assembly polls on Thursday. However, it wasn’t the clout of Rahul Gandhi’s brigade, but a carefully crafted social alliance of Jats and dalits that brought cheer to the flagging party in Haryana. In Maharashtra, it was the change in the state leadership and the alliance with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party that did the trick for the Congress in increasing its tally. The decision to make Jat strongman Bhupinder Hooda the party’s face and dalit leader Kumari Selja the pradesh Congress committee chief just a little over a month before the state went to polls is what paid dividends for the party in Haryana. A decision was also taken at the highest level to give charge of the campaigning to Mr Hooda which paid rich dividends.
Along with this, the campaign strategy of focussing on economic distress and local issues as well as avoiding falling into the nationalism trap by not discussing Article 370 also paid off.
Mr Hooda along with his son Deependra Hooda, a former two-time MP from Rohtak, started campaigning in all the constituencies of Haryana immediately after the Lok Sabha debacle in which the Congress lost all 10 seats in the state. Hooda senior held almost 200 small and big rallies in the state.
Capturing the local mood, Mr Hooda announced that one person from every family would be given a job. He also promised job reservation in the state for locals on the lines prevalent in several other states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Among the other promises made was free electricity for farmers, loan waiver for farmers having land holdings of two acres.
PCC chief Kumari Selja also did her bit by keeping the focus on local issues. “Be it the PM (Narendra Modi) or other top BJP leaders or the Haryana CM, they did not talk about even one issue of Haryana because they know that they are on the back foot. The people of Haryana said that first you should give your report and then ask for vote. They could not give a report and tried to divert attention continuously,” she said.
In Maharashtra, the Congress’ state and Central leadership stayed away from the infighting between former Union minister Milind Deora and former Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam. Instead they asked former chief ministers Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chauhan and family members of late Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde to contest. This bolstered the fortunes of the party as they were able to attract the Maratha vote.
Like Haryana, in Maharashtra also the Congress concentrated on local issues of unemployment, farm crisis and the state of the economy. The party also did well in the byelections, winning Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In Gujarat, the Congress and the BJP both won three seats each in bypolls.
The Congress leadership both at the state and the national level avoided getting into verbal duels with disgruntled former state unit chief Ashok Tanwar, who had been replaced with Ms Selja. Before resigning from the party, Mr Tanwar even held a demonstration outside the residence of the Congress president and went on to accuse the Congress of selling tickets. There was also a scare that he may put up independent candidates who could diminish the chances of Congress candidates.
Sources told this newspaper that Congress president Sonia Gandhi called Mr Hooda on Thursday morning and asked him to take the lead in government formation if needed.
The Jat leader is expected to be in Delhi and was said to be in touch with Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) which has emerged as the “kingmaker”.
Sources said that Mr Chautala’s party has been trying to bargain for the chief minister’s post for its leader. A senior Congress leader said Mr Hooda is clear that the Congress should not go this far to keep the BJP out of power but would be open to something more reasonable.
Addressing the media, Mr Hooda said, “We should form a strong government”. He named Mr Chautala’s JJP and the Indian National Lok Dal, which has won one seat in the 90-member Assembly, as some of the parties that could come together.
On similar lines, party spokesperson Anand Sharma also asked all parties opposing the BJP to come together. Mr Sharma said that BJP chief Amit Shah’s claim of victory in Haryana does not hold as the party is short of majority and there is a significant drop in its vote percentage.