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Once ‘No. 1’, Hooda can’t take that for granted

Too many leaders have left the Congress for its comfort, mostly because of differences with Hooda.

Written by MUKESH BHARDWAJ | Panipat |
Updated: October 9, 2014 10:41:08 am

In 2009, the Congress had gone to the Haryana polls with jingles praising “Haryana No. 1” Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who went on to retain power. He continues to claim that ranking as he seeks a third term. But in an election where he is fighting deeper anti-incumbency than ever, not everyone in the Congress counts him as the prime contender any longer.

The Congress leadership cites tradition to say it will not name a chief minister until after the polls. In fact, one of Hooda’s detractors within the party, Capt Ajay Yadav, had declared after resigning as minister, and then meeting Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, that he too may be chief minister. “The Congress has so many leaders who could be chief minister but this question will arise after the result,” says Shakeel Ahmed, Congress general secretary-in-charge of Haryana.

Too many leaders have left the Congress for its comfort, mostly because of differences with Hooda. Among them, Rao Inderjit Singh, Dharambir and Ramesh Kaushik have gone on to become BJP MPs.

Others who have left include one of the strongest claimants to the chief minister’s chair, Birender Kumar. Venod Sharma, once Hooda’s closest aide, too has left. Old rivals such as Kumari Selja continue to attack him.

Hooda held on to power in 2009 after being reduced to 40 of 90 seats; he won the support of six MLAs of the HJC. Since then, his troubles have mounted in the party as well as outside, with the opposition constantly attacking him for lopsided development, corruption, nepotism and land deals.

Hooda has been accused of restricting major projects to Rohtak and Jhajjar in Lok Sabha constituency, represented by his son Deepender. Selja and Birender have called him “chief minister of Rohtak”. And the INLD’s Dushyant Chautala has said, “To him Haryana means Rohtak. We are not against development of Rohtak but a chief minister just cannot ignore Sirsa.”

Rivals note how he has posted close aides in key positions, such as his former principal secretaries Murari Lal Tayal and Chhatar Singh as members of the Competition Commission of India and the UPSC, and the wife of one of his advisers as an information commissioner. The names of eight of his ministers, chief parliamentary secretaries and senior leaders have come up in connection with a cash-for-change-of-land-use scam.

There are also the land deals, with Hooda accused of manipulating Robert Vadra’s deals. Arvind Kejriwal once called Hooda a property dealer. The BJP is threatening to probe all these deals if it comes to power.

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