UCHNA: Strongly countering the BJP's nationalism pitch in the Haryana Assembly poll campaign, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda asserted that it was the Congress which secured Independence and it was under its rule that Pakistan split into two.
Hooda also criticised Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar for his remarks against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi recently, saying a person sitting in a position of responsibility should make responsible comments.
"Anyone making irresponsible statements should be condemned", he said, in reference to Khattar using the Hindi proverb "khoda pahad nikli chuhiya" while mocking the Congress' efforts to find Rahul Gandhi's replacement.
In an interview to PTI while flying from one campaign venue to another on a helicopter, Hooda said the assembly polls, slated for October 21, are a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP in Haryana as both the JJP and the INLD have become "irrelevant".
Hooda's remarks dismissing the Jannayak Janta Party and the Indian National Lok Dal as having "no role" post polls come after Congress' former Haryana unit president Ashok Tanwar announced his support for Dushyant Chautala-led JJP.
Asked about the BJP's claims of getting 75 plus seats in the 90-member assembly, Hooda said, "Hawa palat chuki hai (the wind has changed direction)."
The Congress' election management committee chief also asserted that his party would get an "absolute majority" and form the next government.
"There is a wave in favour of Congress. Based on the support the party is getting, I believe a Congress government is going to be formed in Haryana," he said on his way from Uklana in Hisar to Uchana in the state's Jind district.
Asked about the BJP aggressively raising the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir during the election campaign, Hooda said, "As far as Article 370 is concerned, the whole country knows about my views. But it is not an election issue as it has now become a law."
"It is the law of the land and nobody is opposing it", the two-time chief minister said, adding that there is only one issue now and that is establishing peace in Kashmir.
On the BJP making nationalism and Article 370 its main poll plank, he said, "Congress ke samay mein toh Pakistan ke do tukde ho gaye the (Under the Congress rule, Pakistan split into two). This (Article 370) is not an issue."
"The issues for electing Members of Parliament were different while the issues of these polls are different. Local issues are important. The BJP government had made 154 promises, but it has not fulfilled even one and because of this all sections -- be it farmers, traders, officials, labourers -- are not happy," the 72-year-old leader said.
"Everyone is a nationalist. Who is not a nationalist in this country? My father was a nationalist, my grandfather was a freedom fighter. It was the Congress that secured independence for the country," he said.
In a bid to end factionalism in the party ahead of assembly polls in Haryana, the Congress last month named Kumari Selja as chief of its state unit and appointed Hooda chairperson of the election management committee.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also appointed Hooda the Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader.
Asked if he could be the next chief minister of the state, Hooda evaded a direct answer, saying the aim right now is to form a Congress government.
"In national parties, the sitting chief minister is the face. And in the case of someone who is not the sitting CM, the MLAs and the high command decide. This is true for both the Congress and the BJP," he asserted.
On people at rallies saying he is their CM choice, he remarked that it was "people's sentiments".
Dismissing Tanwar's backing to the JJP, he said a person who has resigned from the party can go anywhere he wants and support anybody.
The veteran leader also dismissed the "Modi factor" in polls, saying people are talking about the failures of the Haryana government and the achievements of his government between 2005-14.
"People will not get diverted, they are intelligent," he asserted.
Highlighting the promises made by his party in its manifesto, Hooda said loans of farmers will be waived.
Talking about key poll issues, he said, "Unemployment is the biggest issue. Unemployment rate that was at 2.8 per cent has increased 10 times to 28 per cent, highest in the country. No new industry is coming up. The government is busy in event management."
Hooda also asserted there is no infighting in the Haryana Congress and all are united.
He said there is no clash between the old and new guard in the Congress.