Chandigarh, Oct 8 (IANS) Factionalism within the Congress and corruption charges against the party leadership are the main stumbling blocks that the two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is facing in his seemingly last ‘do-or-die battle in Haryana, according to political observers.
Hooda, a de-facto Chief Ministerial candidate, feels his party has an edge over the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by first-time Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who is aiming 75 plus seats in the 90-member Assembly, owing to huge unemployment that as per estimates reached 28.7 per cent against the national average of 8.4 per cent.
“The BJP has not fulfilled even one of its 154 promises made in the last Assembly elections (2014),” Hooda told IANS.
If the Congress returned to power, farm loans would be waived within six months, old-age pension would be raised to Rs 5,100 and the women of poor families would get a monthly allowance of Rs 2,000, he said.
But political observers have said that it was literally a do-or-die battle for Hooda, 72, who is struggling for his political survival.
He was pushing hard to get the party at the helm again.
“This time, Hooda is fighting on two fronts — one is to establish himself as he faced humiliating defeat along with his son Deepender in the last Lok Sabha and the second is to ensure the party’s return as he forced the Congress to announce him as the leader despite all odds,” a political observer told IANS.
After facing a humiliating defeat in the 2014 assembly polls, Hooda was almost marginalised by the Congress factions — one led by former Union Minister Kumari Selja, and the other by national spokesman Randeep Surjewala.
This gave opportunity to Ashok Tanwar to emerge as a leader in the state politics.
Just days ahead of this poll announcement, the Congress high command handed over to Hooda the reins of the party’s affairs in the state by appointing him as the Congress Legislative Party leader.
So was, former Union Minister Kumari Selja who was appointed the state unit party President, replacing Tanwar, who was appointed in February 2014.
“The handing over the party reins to Hooda is part of the Congress strategy to save its sinking ship in the state and to boost the morale of cadres as the party for long has been divided in camps,” a senior state Congress leader admitted.
But recent raking up of allegations of nepotism and corruption publicly by Tanwar after resigning from the Congress has once again dampened the winning prospects of the Congress.
Tanwar was in fact unhappy as he could manage only two tickets for his supporters, while the major chunk of 60 seats went to the supporters of Hooda.
Even state party chief Kumari Selja has also got a big share of 15 seats, while Surjewala could not manage tickets for his supporters. While the former declined to contest, the former is in the fray.
But shrewd Hooda knows the Assembly poll will be a vote on the performance of his 10-year government till 2014.
“We are seeking votes on the basis of development by our government, especially in the education and health sectors,” a confident Hooda told IANS.
Both Selja and Hooda claimed that they have travelled in all 10 parliamentary constituencies.
“We saw a lot of enthusiasm among the party workers, who were earlier demoralised and are now fully confident of returning to power,” he said.
The BJP seems confident of pro-incumbency amid divided Congress and fractured state’s family-ruled regional faction the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), whose 11 sitting legislators defected and are in fray as a saffron party candidate.
To counter Hooda in his bastion Garhi Sampla-Kiloi in Rohtak, the saffron party pitted defected INLD leader Satish Nandal, who recently joined the BJP.
Jat leader Nandal is Hooda’s former aide and knows his “ins and outs”.
Nandal previously contested two Assembly elections against Hooda in 2009 and 2014 and finished his nearest rival on both occasions.
Political analysts say the BJP’s vote share in Hooda’s home turf in the last Lok Sabha elections has registered a substantial increase compared to the 2014 Assembly elections.
Speculations are rife that unlike previous polls this time Hooda will have to spend most of his time in his constituency to save his seat rather than touring the entire state for the party.
But not everything is as hunky-dory as the BJP would like to project.
Twelve of its legislators, including two ministers, were denied tickets, resulting in the fear of undercutting by the dejected ones.
Its sitting legislator Randhir Kapriwas, who was denied ticket from Rewari, entered the fray as an Independent. Likewise, sitting legislator Umesh Aggarwal fielded his wife Anita Aggarwal as an Independent from Gurugram.
There are several other political parties in the poll arena.
The BSP, the Aam Aadmi Party, Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj India and former BJP MP Rajkumar Saini’s Loktantra Suraksha Party are fighting alone.
From a 24 per cent vote share in the 2014 Assembly polls, the INLD’s share went down to meager 1.4 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Earlier, the INLD used to get all non-Congress votes. Now most of its legislators are BJP candidates.
“The INLD loss will give the BJP gain,” said a political analyst.
Haryana will go to the polls for the 90 Assembly seats on October 21.
The counting of ballot on October 24 will decide the future of both arch rivals Khattar and Hooda.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)