After obtaining backing of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is faced with a tough task to keep his flock together. A number of party stalwarts have already deserted him while some others are waiting in the wings to take a flight.
Leading the pack is Rajya Sabha MP Birender Singh, a known Hooda detractor, who has stated publicily that in case the party does not replace Hooda, he will not contest the upcoming Assembly elections under his leadership. He is reportedly in touch with the BJP leadership, though he denies it. Prior to this, Singh — on more than one occasion — had expressed his desire to become the chief minister, a promise that he says former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made to him. The Congress high command has made it clear that the elections will be fought under Hooda though there is uncertainty over him getting the top position after results are out.
“We are in a comfortable position. I am the leader and continue till have blessings of Sonia Gandhi. We will form the government for third consecutive time,” said Hooda after Sonia’s go ahead. But these blessings failed to dampen Singh’s spirits, who has come up with four names — including that of himself — who can be projected as the CM candidate instead of Hooda.
At ground level, many senior leaders have quit the party on the eve of Lok Sabha polls. They included former Union Minister Rao Inderjit Singh and former CPS Dharambir Singh. Moreover, the BJP poached Raj Kumar Saini, who defeated Naveen Jindal in Kurukshetra and Sushil Kumar Indora too contested on a HJC ticket.
Hooda suffered more an embarrassment than a setback after his Man Friday and former Union Minister Venod Sharma snapped his 35 years association with the party. Another matter that Sharma’s bid to join the BJP-HJC alliance were foiled by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.
A number of senior leaders are reportedly waiting for the right moment, though a few have already contacted the BJP. The delay is on the account that BJP first wants to settle alliance issue with the HJC.
“The party is not ready to listen to us and workers are not valued. It is become a party of one person and government of one district,” said Neeraj Sharma who recently quit Congress. Sharma’s father is a minister in the Hooda cabinet.
That the party has lost its grip is evident from its failed experiment of fielding three MLAs for the Lok Sabha polls. Hooda himself picked up Rao Dharampal for Gurgaon to contest against BJP’s Rao Inderjit Singh.
Dharampal could not retain a lead in his constituency of Badshahpur where he would have lost his deposit had it been the Assembly election. He polled only 22,193 votes against the 1,30,918 in Inderjit’s favour. Thus, he lost by by 1,08,725 votes — the largest losing margin for the Congress in an Assembly constituency among its candidates.
Similarly, Hisar candidate and Nalwa MLA Sampat Singh could manage 11,697 votes against the 40,494 and 44,096 polled in favour of HJC’s Kuldeep Bishnoi and INLD’s Dushyant Chautala, respectively. Barring a few, almost all senior leaders trailed in their assembly seats.
The Congress is also aware — rather state leaders have made it clear — that the party won’t bet on a losing proposition in the Assembly polls and not all MLAs will be given tickets. This has set an unrest among leaders who are now in the process of deciding whether to stay on the sinking ship or to jump to safety.