Return of Hoodas: Father-Son Duo Lead Congress’ Revival in Haryana.

Vishal Chauhan, 08/05/2019
Return of Hoodas: Father-Son Duo Lead Congress’ Revival in Haryana.

Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s roadshow in support of Rohtak MP Deepender Singh Hooda on Tuesday, 7 May, is a clear indication that this is one of the seats the party hopes to win in Haryana. It is also an acknowledgement on the part of the Congress leadership that the Hoodas are the party’s best bet in the state.

Three members of the extended Hooda family are fighting the elections this time – former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda from Sonipat, Deepender Hooda from Rohtak and Jyoti Mirdha in Nagaur, Rajasthan. Mirdha’s sister is married to Deepender Hooda.

The Hoodas and Mirdhas aren’t ordinary political families. Their story is linked to the political mobilisation of Jats over the last century. Bhupinder Hooda’s father Ranbir Singh Hooda was part of the freedom struggle and was jailed several times for participating in Mahatma Gandhi’s agitations. He became part of India’s Constituent Assembly in 1947 and was elected as to India’s first Lok Sabha in 1952, from Rohtak, the same seat where he grandson is now seeking his fourth term.

Jyoti Mirdha, on the other hand, is the granddaughter of Nathuram Mirdha, who received his early political training under iconic Jat leader Sir Chhotu Ram and went on to become a minister in Rajasthan.

The Congress’ drive to woo back the Jat community in Haryana and Rajasthan critically hinges on the Hooda-Mirdha family. But this is also some sort of a comeback for the Hoodas.

Cut back to 2014 when Congress lost the Assembly elections in Haryana, barely a few months after Lok Sabha debacle. After ruling the state for almost a decade, the Congress stood third, behind both the BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal. Almost as a punishment to Bhupinder Hooda, the Congress leadership handed over charge of Haryana to two of his rivals – Tosham MLA Kiran Chaudhary became the Congress Legislature Party leader and Ashok Tanwar remained the head of the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee.

There were also rumours that the Hoodas could switch over to the Bharatiya Janata Party. But they remained firmly with the party and tried to expand their control over the Jat community.

At that time, the party leadership felt that under Hooda, the Congress in Haryana had become overly Jat-dominated and that too dominated by Jats of the Deswali region: That is the districts of Rohtak, Sonipat and Jhajjar – which is Hooda’s main area of influence.

There was some truth to this. In the 2014 Assembly elections, 11 out of the 15 seats Congress won was from these districts.

On the other hand, the party won two seats in Palwal district and one each on Bhiwani and Kaithal –- Kiran Chaudhary in Tosham and Randeep Singh Surjewala in Kaithal.

Even in terms of vote share, the Congress’ vote share collapsed across Haryana except in Rohtak. It was the only seat the party won in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Haryana, with Deepender Hooda winning the seat by 1.7 lakh votes despite being down with an injury during much of the campaign.

Every Lok Sabha seats has around nine Assembly segments in Haryana. In the Assembly elections, the Congress got 33.5 percent votes in the segments in the Rohtak Lok Sabha seat.

The only other seats where it managed to get a respectable vote share are Sonipat with 29.2 percent and Faridabad at 25.2 percent.

However, the Congress’ dominance in the Deswali region, which was being considered a liability in 2014, has now become an advantage for the party.

The Hooda bastions Rohtak and Sonipat are said to be the Congress’ best chances of pushing back the BJP in Haryana. These are also areas which were the epicentre of the Jat agitation and the community’s anger against the BJP is the highest.

But to defeat the Hoodas, the BJP is said to be carrying out an aggressive anti-Jat campaign reminding non-Jat voters of the violence that took place during that Jat reservation protests in 2016. The buzzword for the party is to unite “35 communities.” Haryana is said to be the land of “Chhattis Biradri” or 36 communities. During the Jat agitation, the 35 Biradri Morcha came up which sought to unite every community except Jats. This narrative became a huge source of support for Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, the first non-Jat chief minister of Haryana since Bhajan Lal in the mid 1990s.

In Rohtak, Deepender Singh Hooda is up against Arvind Sharma of the BJP, a prominent Brahmin leader. Also in the fray are Pradeep Deshwal of the Jannayak Janata Party and Dharamveer Fauji of the Indian National Lok Dal, both of whom are Jats and could eat into Hooda’s votes.

On the other hand, the Bahujan Samaj Party-Loktantra Suraksha Party alliance has fielded Kishan Lal Panchal, who is from the OBC Vishwakarma community.

The Jat votes are consolidating behind Hooda, while the non-Jat votes are consolidating behind BJP’s Sharma. Hooda might need a chunk of the seat’s 20 percent Dalit votes to win another term.

The senior Hooda is facing an even tougher battle. Here again his main rival is a Brahmin, sitting MP Ramesh Chander Kaushik of the BJP. But he is facing an additional threat – JJP leader Digvijay Chautala – who is also in the fray from the seat and will be directly challenging Hooda for the 34 percent Jat votes in the seat.

Earlier this year, Chautala had come an impressive second in the bypoll to the Jind Assembly constituency, that falls in the Sonipat Lok Sabha seat.

Hooda is fighting the election as Sonipat’s Damaad as his wife hails from the district. Much of his calculations are dependent on Dahiya Jats, his wife’s clan, who are in substantial numbers in this area.

The Lok Sabha polls are a semi-final for all the major players in Haryana. With the INLD splitting into two after the formation of the JJP, the Congress senses that it can consolidate Jat votes on its side. This is why the party has fielded both the Hoodas from Rohtak and Sonipat respectively.

On the other hand, the JJP and INLD would want to make their presence felt and prevent the Hoodas from consolidating Jat votes.

For Manohar Lal Khattar, the Lok Sabha polls are another chance to consolidate the 35 non-Jat biradris behind the BJP. The re-emergence of Hoodas as the powerful Jat adversaries presents both an opportunity as well as a threat for Khattar. An obstacle in Khattar’s path is former BJP leader Raj Kumar Saini, whose Loktantra Suraksha Party is contesting in alliance with the BSP.

As the Saini or Mali community bore the brunt of the Jat agitation violence, Saini is a fierce proponent of anti-Jat politics and, therefore, a direct threat to Khattar’s plan.

With caste emerging as the main narrative in the Lok Sabha elections in Haryana’s 10 seats, Hoodas are in a strong position to call the shots both within the Congress as well as emerge as the main Opposition voices in Haryana.

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