As the Congress steps up its poll preparations to ensure that no stone is left unturned in a bid to oust the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Jannayak Janta Party (BJP-JJP) coalition government in Haryana and win maximum seats for the Lok Sabha, former Chief Minister and currently leader of Opposition in the Assembly Bhupinder Singh Hooda asserts in an interview with The Hindu that the Congress is all set to come back to power in the State as the people are fed-up of BJP-JJP rule. He adds that in Haryana, the fight is only between the Congress and the BJP, and the Congress is competent and is preparing to contest all the 10 Lok Sabha seats. Pointing out that there could be differences of opinion but there is no discord among party leaders in Haryana, Mr. Hooda says that when Congress comes to power, there would be four deputy Chief Ministers, one of whom would be a woman. On the critical water-sharing issue between Punjab-Haryana, through the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, Mr. Hooda says while it is the responsibility and duty of the Central government to ensure that Haryana gets its share of water through the SYL canal, but Punjab should also understand that the country has a federal structure and the need to co-exist. “If Punjab continues with such an approach to defy the federal fabric, then it’s unacceptable. If a similar stance is adopted by us then we can say that we will not allow any vehicles from Punjab to ply on the national highways passing through Haryana,” says Mr. Hooda.
How is the Congress preparing itself for 2024 Parliamentary and Assembly polls?
The party is all set for the upcoming 2024 Parliamentary and Assembly elections. People have made up their minds to bring the Congress party back to power. We have been continuously among the people through programmes like ‘Vipaksh Aapke Saamsh’, ‘Hath Se Hath Jodo’ campaign and ‘Jan Milan Samaroh’ – through these programmes, we have been getting people’s feedback about their problems, and also a clear indication that they are fed up with the ruling BJP-JJP alliance government. Party’s State president Udaibhan and I will be travelling and holding rallies and events across all the 90 Assembly constituencies of the State from November 1 (Haryana Day). I am confident that the Congress government will be formed in the State with a full majority, and the party will win all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
But for the past around nine years the Congress has been running without block or district committees, don’t you think the party is suffering badly? When is an organisation overhaul expected?
It is always useful to have a functional organisational structure at the district and block level, and I am hopeful that a spirited organisation will be set in place within a month.
You are saying that Congress will contest all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana, then what about sharing seats with your Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) partners, mainly the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)?
After the upcoming Assembly elections in the five States are over, there will be talks about sharing of seats in the Lok Sabha with our alliance partners. How can anyone claim about contesting without any base on the ground? After all the basic idea of an alliance is to win, and in Haryana, the fight is only between the Congress and the BJP, no other party is at play. The Congress party is competent and is preparing to contest all the 10 Lok Sabha seats. Later on, some formula could be worked out, what formula is accepted by the ‘high command’ it would be final.
You recently came up with the idea of four Deputy Chief Ministers if Congress comes to power, but questions against it were raised from within the party. How do you react?
Our party in charge of the State affairs has supported the idea of four Deputy Chief Ministers, pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not something new, even in 2019 ahead of the election we had announced about having four Deputy Chief Ministers. The intention is to give respect to all with a balancing act. Among the four Deputy Chief Ministers, one would be a woman as well. If some party leader has raised a question that would it be a part of the party manifesto, then let me tell you such things are not put in the manifesto. How many Ministers would be inducted in the Cabinet, what portfolios would be assigned – all such things are not in the manifesto. Ours is a democratic party and everyone has a right to speak his or her mind. There could be differences of opinions but there’s no discord among leaders.
What’s your take on the caste survey? Why is it important?
Once our government is formed in Haryana, we will definitely conduct the caste survey. It is important for the welfare and upliftment of all those sections of society in the State that have remained financially and socially underdeveloped for years. We will make policies for them, which will be done after the precise numbers of different castes are known. I believe it will help in accomplishing the basic idea of Mahatma Gandhi, who considered that if the downtrodden were to be uplifted then they must be given priority.
Punjab and Haryana are at loggerheads on water-sharing through the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. What’s your take?
It’s the responsibility and duty of the Central government to ensure that Haryana gets its share of water through the SYL canal. Punjab would never agree but the fact is that Haryana has its water share, which was a part of the Reorganisation Act, 1966. Punjab needs to understand that our country has a federal structure. If Punjab continues with such an approach to defy the federal fabric, then it’s unacceptable. If a similar stance is adopted by us then we can say that we will not allow any vehicles from Punjab to ply on the national highways passing through Haryana – we need to co-exist. We are not asking for anything wrong from Punjab, we only want our legitimate share of water.
How do you assess the performance of the ruling BJP-JJP alliance government?
The ruling BJP-JJP is a non-performing government, and their performance has been unsatisfactory. There’s rampant corruption, the law-and-order situation is crumbling, and the State is plagued with mining mafia, drug mafia, scams and scandals, unemployment, inflation, and debt trap. During the Congress tenure, Haryana was the number one State in the country in terms of per capita income, per capita investment, law and order, and employment. But the present BJP-JJP government has made the State number one in terms of unemployment, crime, and drug abuse. The people have been made to suffer due to ill-conceived policies of the BJP-led government — be it rising inflation, unemployment, or rising debt. The State’s development has come to a halt.