To find a replacement to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is no less difficult than removing him from the position of power in the crucial Vidhan Sabha election due in October.
A huge question mark hangs over Hooda’s future ever since the ruling Congress lost miserably in the Lok Sabha elections, but the delay is due to his proximity with the Gandhi family and also the fact that almost all the potential leaders who would have replaced him are also not up to the mark. All those considered to be frontrunners have lost their standing in their assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls. Ironically, though there is a great effort to topple Hooda, there are not many except Rajya Sabha MP Birender Singh, who are ready to take up the challenge to lead the party.
Hooda survived for almost a complete tenure of five years, despite adverse political situation since 2009 polls, when the party was reduced to a minority of 40 seats. He ‘secured and procured’ MLAs from other parties and independents to survive. His own colleagues attacked him from day one, but his connections to 10, Janpath, proved much stronger.
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A strong contender to replace Hooda is Parliamentary Affairs Minister and national spokesman of the party, Randeep Singh Surjewala, who could maintain his assembly segment by a margin of 13,331 votes. Besides Hooda, who led in his native constituency of Kiloi by a margin of 63,005 votes, it is Surjewala who secured his Kaithal seat and is constantly in his assembly segment ever since the results were declared. Surjewala is young and close to party bosses because of his amiable and articulate manner. However, he is strongly opposed by Hooda detractors to lead the show.
Amidst allegations of his continuous flirting with the saffron party post Lok Sabha debacle, Hooda’s bete noire and Rajya Sabha MP Birender Singh failed to maintain his lead in his assembly segment in the Lok Sabha polls. In his native Uchana Kalan assembly constituency, the Congress candidate and MLA Sampat Singh could get only 13,070 votes against 87,243 polled in favour of Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) candidate Dushyant Chautala. Even the second slot was captured by Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) party candidate Kuldeep Bishnoi who was polled 36,254 votes. The Congress lagged behind by a huge margin of 74,173 votes in this constituency. Singh had been in touch with top BJP brass and have already threatened to take some strict measures if 30 of his supporters were not given tickets in the assembly elections.
Another Congress leader and former Union Minister Selja did not even enter the fray and managed the Rajya Sabha ticket from the state on the eve of Lok Sabha polls. Selja had never concealed her dislike for Hooda as the leader and had been openly attacking him pre and post Lok Sabha elections for his alleged partisan attitude and alleged neglect towards Dalits. She wants Hooda to be removed from the leadership but, sources said, was not much interested to take lead.
Hooda had taken a dig at her saying that those who did not even enter the poll arena and avoided facing the public were making statements from the confines of their comfy air-conditioned rooms in Delhi. She actually feared defeat and hence kept away from contesting but her supporters have protested against Hooda during his recent visits to the constituency. Selja herself has emboldened after the humiliating party defeat and hence could stage a walkout from Rahul Gandhi’s classroom where he gave lesson of unity in Delhi recently.
Another powerful political leader and the richest woman entrepreneur Savitri Jindal, who is also a minister in the Hooda cabinet, got an embarrassing figure in her home constituency of Hisar. At one point of time her son Naveen Jindal was in race to lead the state unit of the party. Had it been an assembly election, Jindal would not have saved her deposit as she was polled a meagre number of 5,035 votes against 67,452 polled in favour of Bishnoi in Hisar seat. The INLD candidate Dushyant was second with 24,238 votes. Power Minister Captain Ajay Singh Yadav also trailed in his constituency of Rewari by a margin of 82,290 votes.
Under the circumstances, it is a tough decision for the party high command to make — whom to hand over the reins at this crucial juncture. The complete state unit seems to be in disarray as replacing Ashok Tanwar on the eve of Lok Sabha polls boomeranged on the party and Tanwar himself lost to INLD candidate in Sirsa. As if his defeat was not enough to weaken his position to lead, he disbanded the state unit without immediate replacement of leaders. The party meetings at various places in the state are hooted and leadership is challenged openly in presence of both Hood and Tanwar.