Two-time former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda (71) is the face of the Congress in Haryana. The son of freedom fighter and constituent Assembly member Ranbir Singh Hooda, he is an alumnus of Sainik School, Balachadi, Jamnagar, Gujarat. Having started his political career as a block president in his native area of Kiloi in Rohtak, Hooda has been Member of Parliament and Member of Legislative Assembly four times each.

Ever since losing power to the BJP in the 2014 Assembly polls, the strongman from Rohtak’s Jat bastion is facing political as well as legal battles with the party high command ignoring his demand for leadership change in the state unit and Central agencies probing corruption cases against him. In an interview to RANJEET JAMWAL, Hooda underlined the need to appoint a new president of the Congress at the earliest. Excerpts:

Q: What is your assessment of the Congress leadership crisis? Also, who should, in your view, be the Congress president?

A: The Congress Working Committee (CWC) is meeting on 10 August to take a decision on this issue. We had requested Rahul Gandhi to continue as party president. But he didn’t relent and resigned as president. So now the CWC is meeting and someone should be made president. This uncertainty over the party president should be over soon. Such uncertainty is not good for the party.

Q: The BJP won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana for the first time in the state’s history. How will you describe BJP’s surge in the state where the saffron party was a minor player till the 2014 Lok Sabha polls?

A: It was not an achievement of the BJP government in Haryana. It was because of pseudo-nationalism and Modi wave that the party won. This was the case not just in Haryana but entire northern India and the BJP won Lok Sabha seats because of these factors.

Q:Will the Modi factor play a part in the Assembly polls too?

A: These factors (pseudo-nationalism and Modi wave) will not be there in Assembly polls as state polls are fought on different issues. For example, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress won nine Lok Sabha seats and one seat was won by the late Bhajan Lal’s party (Haryana Janhit Congress). Thus, Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) didn’t win a seat in those Lok Sabha polls in Haryana. But in Assembly polls later, the INLD won 32 seats. Likewise, in Odisha people voted for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister at the Centre but voted for Naveen Patnaik as chief minister again. Therefore, Lok Sabha polls are fought on different issues from the Assembly polls. In Assembly polls people assess the state government’s performance.

Q: Should the Congress forge an alliance with any party for the Haryana Assembly polls?

A: There is no need for the Congress to have an alliance for the Assembly polls. But if like-minded parties like Bahujan Samaj Party come forward for an alliance and it works well for both the parties, we are open to such an alliance.

Q: Should the Congress leadership project a CM candidate for these polls?

A: It’s a hypothetical question. The BJP too had not declared ML Khattar as CM candidate in the 2014 Assembly polls. Our first target is to oust the BJP. We can announce the CM candidate later.

Q: Opposition parties accuse the BJP of creating a divide in Haryana between Jats and nonJats. Do you agree with this? How will the Congress deal with it?

A: They (BJP) have made an effort but not succeeded in it. Any development work like roads, schools or colleges in the state is for all communities and everyone benefits from them. Such things are not done for one particular community. This is the mentality of the BJP but people have fully understood the issue and everyone is for strengthening brotherhood among all communities.

Q: You have been demanding leadership change in the Haryana unit. How will it help the Congress?

A: I have never demanded leadership change but Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee in the presence of Kamal Nath (then in-charge of Haryana Congress) had passed a resolution authorising Rahul Gandhi to appoint a new president (replacing current president Ashok Tanwar). We are waiting for a decision on that resolution. It’s for the party high command to decide. But for the past five years, there are no block or district presidents in the state unit. It for sure weakens the party organisation.

Q: The Congress appears divided on revocation of Article 370.What is your view?

A: In my individual capacity, I have supported the revocation of Article 370. Even the Congress has not opposed it. The party has only questioned the manner in which it was done.

Q: How do you assess the performance of the BJP government in Haryana?

A: The BJP had made 154 pre-poll promises but has not fulfilled a single promise. Since the formation of the state in 1966 till 2014, the per person debt stood at Rs 30,000. But in the past five years, it has gone up to Rs 71,000. None of the promises made to poor, farmers, youth and employees have been fulfilled. The BJP can’t win just on the basis of rhetoric. The failure of the Khattar government on all fronts will be our main poll issue.