Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Sunday virtually threatened to part ways with the Congress ahead of the assembly polls and slammed his party's stand on revoking provisions of Article 370 in J-K, saying the Congress has "lost its way" and is no longer the party it was before.
Addressing a 'Maha Privartan Rally' at his home turf, the two-time chief minister announced that a 25-member committee would decide the future course of action for his faction, which has been demanding that Hooda be made the state unit chief in place of Ashok Tanwar.
Hooda also promised several sops if he becomes the chief minister, seen as an open challenge to the party which is yet to name its candidate for the top post.
At the outset, a combative Hooda said he had come "freeing himself and disengaging from all bondages" to speak his heart out and was launching a fight to finish to defeat "communal and divisive forces which had done damage to the state".
"I will form a committee that would include 13 sitting MLAs who support me and 12 other important state leaders. Whatever this committee decides, I will do that," he said in the presence of his loyalist legislators, besides several former MLAs and other leaders.
He said he does not agree with his party leaders who have opposed abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The Congress has lost its way. It is no longer the Congress of before... ," Hooda said.
"I belong to a family of freedom fighters. We have never compromised and will never compromise on national interests and we supported the (Khattar) government when resolution hailing the Centre on Article 370 was passed in the Haryana Vidhan Sabha," the senior Congress leader said.
"However, we do not support the BJP when it indulges in politics over the issue. What is the state BJP's contribution on this issue when we have also supported the resolution. The BJP is wanting to raise this issue but we must not forget that the performance of the BJP over the last five years is going to be the main issue in the assembly elections," he said while attacking the BJP government.
Calling upon people to support him, Hooda told them to oust the "non-performing" M L Khattar government, saying "this is the last opportunity to save the state".
He said if he becomes the chief minister, he will increase old age pension to Rs 5,000 from present Rs 2,000, waive farmers' loan, give financial aid of Rs 2,000 per month to women belonging to the BPL category, free power up to 300 units for BPL families and will make wheat and rice available at Rs 2 per kg for such families.
He said his family has always held national interests as supreme.
Hooda loyalist and MLA Karan Singh Dalal alleged there are people within the Congress who oppose Hooda and said common people want to know for how long will this infighting continue.
"If Congress does not respect people's sentiments of giving you the mantle (making state unit chief), then Hooda ji time has come to rethink. Either we have to form party, a manch, we will have to take a decision because people will not forgive us," Dalal said.
Another Hooda loyalist and MLA Geeta Bhukkal said "we are prepared to fight this battle under Hooda's leadership".