In Maharashtra political drama, 30-year-old Haryana man’s cameo makes people sit
It is a long way from Petwar to Hisar to Mumbai. However, twice now, as drama has swirled around the survival of the Maharashtra government, one of the characters at the heart of it has been a politician from this Haryana village, Sonia Doohan.
On Saturday, the 30-year-old national president of the NCP’s student wing was detained along with an aide for allegedly using fake identity documents to check into the Taj Resort and Convention Center hotel in Dona Paula, Goa, where Shiv Sena MPs who had rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray stayed. Both men were released on bail on Sunday.
It was Doohan who was also front and center in November 2019 when BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis tried to form government with NCP’s Ajit Pawar, after Assembly poll results returned a split verdict. Doohan was credited with ‘rescuing’ four NCP MPs right under the BJP’s noses from a hotel in Gurgaon, Haryana.
The NCP has denied Goa police claims that Doohan and his assistant Shray Kothiyal (28), who belongs to Dehradun, used false papers to try to enter the hotel where rebel MPs Shiv Sena were staying accommodated. NCP National Youth Wing Chairman Dheeraj Sharma said the two were just “tourists” and were being “harassed” by the BJP Goa government for no reason.
On Doohan allegedly using “false papers,” Sharma said, “They (authorities) were watching Sonia because she played a significant role in bringing down the three-day BJP government (in Maharashtra) in 2019…. When Sonia arrived in Goa, she learned that there was very tight security at the hotel and no one with Maharashtra or political ID was allowed. So both of them checked in with Kothiyal’s ID card, he paid with his card, the reservation was in his name. Sonia used the identity card of Shrey’s wife, Shruti Narang. It was not a fake document.
On whether Doohan was in Goa at the behest of the NCP, Sharma said the national president of their student wing was old enough to make her own decisions and did not need permission from anyone in the party.
NCP spokesman and observer and co-leader of the party’s Goa unit, Clyde Crasto, said the party was unaware of Doohan’s movements, but added: “Rebel MPs have been taken there (at the hotel in Goa) suddenly. When someone has made a reservation in advance, you cannot cancel it. The two could have been there for tourism… Just because she is president of the student wing of the NCP does not always put two and two together.
NCP District Chairman, North Goa, Shankar Phadte claimed that Doohan and Kothiyal were accosted by “strangers” in their hotel room. “They said they were Crime Branch officers. Sonia Doohan was abused in the dirtiest language and Shrey Kothiyal was beaten,” Phadte alleged, adding that they were in the process of filing a complaint about the way Doohan and Kothiyal were treated.
Sources said the MPs, now back in Mumbai with their leader and the newly sworn in Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, were informed that a woman linked to the NCP was at the hotel and inquired about them. The court granted them bail against a personal bond of Rs 20,000 and bail in the same amount each, on the condition that they do not leave Goa for the next few days.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Doohan denied the allegations, adding, “Police, Black Cat Commandos and political party workers came to pick me up from the hotel room at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday. called a terrorist. For hours, the Intelligence Bureau and the police interrogated me… This is an attempt to drown out the voice of the youth. What was the need to call me a terrorist?”
Doohan’s Instagram page highlights a newspaper article detailing her role in the government formation drama in 2019. This was just a year after she took over as president of her student wing, although the NCP does not have much presence in Haryana. Proud of this, Doohan says, “I am the first girl from Haryana to be appointed as the student wing president of a national political party.
Closer to home, acquaintances are unsurprised that the ‘feisty’ youngster has made her way into politics despite her humble beginnings as the eldest of three siblings from a farming family. She was educated in the village before moving to Ambala to graduate from Kurukshetra University. For a time, she trained as a pilot in Pune, at which time she became involved in student politics.
Doohan now lives in Gurgaon, to be close to the NCP office in Delhi, but continues to visit his village of Petwar and participate in local events. A villager, Sunil Kumar, says Doohan takes an active interest in girls’ education.
Doohan told The Indian Express that she hopes for a day when women feel safe alone at night on the streets, like in Pune or Mumbai. “I tell parents of girls that when you ask them to become doctors, pilots, engineers or teachers, you should also ask them to become politicians. Until girls become politicians, the upliftment of women is impossible,” she said.
Doohan was clearly up to the task, against those far deeper in politics, on the 2019 episode. Describing it in detail, she said, “We booked a room each floor of the Gurgaon hotel except for the fifth, where no one was allowed as MPs were detained there. This floor had nearly 50 security personnel in civilian clothes, in addition to local administrative officials, and 60 to 70 political workers, who kept a close watch on visitors. We first looked for escape routes where there were no CCTV cameras. Then, messages were sent to deputies who had expressed their desire to leave. We learned that it was planned to move the deputies to Manesar the next day. So, without delay, we started to take them out the back door, which was connected to another hotel. We eliminated a deputy in silence. A hungama started as we eliminated two others. I left my car and took another car at the door of the hotel for the two deputies.
On how they took the MPs from the hotel, Doohan said: “We had organized six cars outside the hotel and three at the Delhi border. Along with the two MPs, I rushed towards Sharad Pawar’s residence in Delhi at full speed during the night hours despite the police patrol vehicles following us. The fourth deputy, who was elderly, was rescued at 2:30 a.m. During the process, this deputy was also assaulted.
Warming up to the subject during a recent visit to his village, Doohan made a wish: “Probably, a movie will be made about this episode.”