BY VISHAL GULATI
Chandigarh, Sep 27 (IANS) It is a tough road for two-time Congress Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to return to the helm in Haryana by wrestling power from the BJP in the October 21 Assembly polls.
Hooda, who had raised a banner of revolt by saying his party had lost its way, is now the de facto chief ministerial face of the Congress.
Just days ahead of the poll announcement, the Congress high command handed over to him the reins of the party’s affairs in the state by appointing him as the Congress Legislative Party leader.
Likewise, former Union Minister Kumari Selja was appointed the state unit party President, replacing Ashok Tanwar, who was appointed in February 2014.
“Both Selja-ji and I have travelled in all 10 parliamentary constituencies. We saw a lot of enthusiasm among the party workers, who were earlier demoralized and are now fully confident of returning to power,” Hooda told IANS.
According to him, he is seeking votes on the basis of his two consecutive stints as the Chief Minister.
Political observers say the ruling BJP this time has an edge over its seemingly divided main rival, the Congress, which ruled the state for a decade till 2014 before losing in the last Assembly polls.
This time the contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress is more or less one sided as the former won all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana earlier this year, a first in the state’s electoral history, a political observer told IANS.
The saffron party is also far ahead of its arch-rival as far as campaigning at the grassroots is concerned.
While first-time Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has already carried out a whirlwind tour of the state ahead of the announcement of poll dates, the Congress is just busy in setting its house in order and boosting the morale of its cadre.
It is literally a do-or-die battle for Hooda, who faced humiliating defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections along with his son Deepender Hooda. The Hoodas are struggling for their political survival.
“This time, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is fighting on two fronts — one is to re-establish himself and the second is to ensure the party’s return as he forced the high command to announce him as the Congress Legislative Party leader just ahead of the polls despite all odds,” a political observer told IANS.
Hooda is facing cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for granting approval to a land deal of Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra in the fag-end of his second stint as the Chief Minister.
“The delay in declaring Hooda as party’s de facto Chief Minister is a blessing in disguise for Hooda. If he was declared as the party leader well in advance, the BJP government in the Centre might tighten noose around his neck by using investigating agencies,” a senior Congress leader admitted.
“At least, till the election process is over, they can’t use the investigating agencies against him,” he added.
In recent times, 10 legislators of the state regional party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have switeched loyalities and joined the BJP.
The only saving grace for the Congress was INLD’s tall leader Ashok Arora and Independent legislator Jai Prakash joining the party on September 19.
As per the poll share in the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May, the BJP, which won all the 10 seats in the state, got the lead in 79 Assembly seats, the Congress in 10 and the Janmayak Janata Party, an INLD breakaway faction, in one seat.
The Congress is yet to hold a major public meeting in the state with its central leadership, while the saffron party has already lined up its entire top leadership for campaigning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held three public meetings in Haryana so far. So did Union Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the party’s working President J.P. Nadda.
The BJP has already announced that incumbent Khattar will be the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
In the 2014 Assembly polls, the BJP improved its 2009 tally of four to 47, followed by the INLD with 19 legislators and the Congress coming third with 15 seats.
Two seats went to the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), and one each to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Five independent candidates were also elected.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])