By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh: Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had acquired a reputation as one of the most powerful Congress chief ministers who could get away with just about anything with the party high command. Now, however, the world around Hooda seems to be crumbling.
The biggest setback to Hooda has come in the form of his “closest friend” and political associate for nearly a decade, former union minister and Ambala city legislator Venod Sharma, parting ways with the Congress and Hooda and hobnobbing with other political outfits.
Ever since Hooda became chief minister for the first time in March 2005, Sharma was the one who was known to call the shots in the Hooda government.
Sharma, a millionaire businessman with interests in hotels, sugar mills, liquor trade, real estate and more, has been hobnobbing with the BJP, the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) and even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
He wants to park himself after finding faults with the Congress with whom he remained associated for over 40 years. None of these parties has taken him in their fold so far.
Sharma is the father of Jessica Lal murder convict Manu Sharma. He has been a minister in the Hooda government earlier.
With Haryana surrounding Delhi from three sides, controversial land deals in the name of Haryana’s development is what the Hooda government has been blamed for in recent years.
Some of these deals done by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra made national headlines in 2012 and 2013 after controversial IAS officer Ashok Khemka exposed them.
What is painful for Hooda is that all this is happening in a year when he faces the Lok Sabha election (April-May) and assembly elections (October).
With growing sentiment against the Congress and Hooda’s government, things are unlikely to be easy for Hooda and the Congress in Haryana this time.
No one is expecting the Congress to repeat its 2009 performance when it won nine out of the 10 Lok Sabha seats from the state. Also, Hooda is on a sticky wicket for the assembly elections.
In the October 2009 assembly elections, which Hooda called six months earlier than scheduled, the Congress ended up as the single largest party without a simple majority.
Sharma was credited for pulling it off for Hooda by roping in independent legislators and managing defections from the HJC to enable the Congress to cobble a majority.
Earlier this year, Gurgaon MP and former union minister Inderjit Singh quit the Congress. He has joined the BJP.
Another legislator from Sohna (near Gurgaon), Dharambir, announced his resignation as chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) of the Congress.
Besides deserters, Hooda is also facing detractors within the party.
Former union minister Selja has always been openly critical of the Hooda government and its policies. Much to Hooda’s annoyance, she managed to secure a Rajya Sabha seat last month and opted out of the contest for the Ambala Lok Sabha seat she was elected to in 2004 and 2009.
Another Rajya Sabha MP, Birender Singh, has also been critical of Hooda.
As Haryana gets into the election mode, the Congress and Hooda may see more deserters and detractors – all of whom seem to be seeing the writing on the wall for the ruling party.