- Mr Hooda supports scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status
- Criticism of party, colleagues comes ahead of elections in Haryana
- Differences have resurfaced between Congress factions in Haryana
Congress's Haryana stalwart Bhupinder Singh Hooda raised eyebrows on Sunday by declaring support for the government's move to end special status for Jammu and Kashmir - deviating widely from the party line ahead of the coming elections in the state. His sharp criticism of the Congress on that score triggered speculation whether he was on his way out of the party he served for more than four decades.
The 71-year-old, however, said he would not quit the party, but constitute a committee of 13 MLAs who would decide the future course of action.
"(Article) 370 was removed and many of my colleagues opposed it. My party has lost its way a bit. It is not the old Congress any more. When it comes to issues of patriotism and self-respect, I will never compromise," Bhupinder Hooda said at a political rally in Haryana's Rohtak.
His son Deepender Singh Hooda also spoke on the same lines, and even indicated that he has reservations about the "method" adopted by the government.
"I have always kept national interest above political one... let's talk of Article 370... It was a temporary settlement... I opposed the way it was scrapped, but I support its removal. I will always support this... but people who are using this for political mileage - I am not with them," Huda junior, a former MP.
The Hoodas' sudden divergence from the party line is seen as move to arm twist the party. Over the last weeks, their supporters have been demanding that the former Chief Minister be made the chief of its state unit, replacing Ashok Tanwar, who currently holds the post.
Over the last week, there has been a buzz that both father and son would announce anytime that they are quitting the party. But the situation stabilised after Sonia Gandhi was named as the party's interim chief, said insiders of the faction-ridden state unit.
The Congress has been out of power in Haryana for five years, having lost to the BJP amid factionalism and accusations of corruption against the government led by Mr Hooda. But with roughly two months to go for the elections, its campaign is yet to get off the ground amid the crisis over the leadership issue at the national level.
Last week -- more than two months after Rahul Gandhi decided to step down from the top post -- his mother Sonia Gandhi was named the party's interim chief.
Over the last weeks, the vacuum at the top and the party's inability to fill it has upset a large section of leaders. No formal stance was decided on a number of issues, including the government's move on Jammu and Kashmir, which led to several senior leaders, including Rahul Gandhi's close aide Jyotiraditya Scindia, expressing public support for the step.
Besides Mr Scindia, Mr Hooda was one of the leaders who contended at a key internal meeting that opposition to scrapping of special status for Jammu and Kashmir was giving rise to a perception that the party was not keen on nationalism. But after a four-hour meet, they agreed that the manner in which it was done was not correct. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra intervened and categorically stated that the party's ideology and what it stood for should not be compromised with, even if there was such a perception.