Is Congress banking too much on Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana?

Chandigarh, Aug 11: Pushed to the wall by the Lok Sabha election results, the ruling Congress in Haryana is banking heavily on Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to see it through in the assembly elections. Opinion polls and the aggression of other parties – particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – make it evident that the upcoming elections are unlikely to go the Congress way.

Haryana’s 90-member house goes to the polls by October this year. Hooda, who has been chief minister since March 2005, is giving the impression that he is “super confident” of coming back to power yet again. He claims he will be chief minister for a third time. He is dismissive about the Lok Sabha election results. The Congress won only one of the 10 seats (down from its 2009 tally of nine seats). Latest opinion polls say the Congress will be routed.

Hooda, however, claims that his popularity among voters is a good 37 percent, despite the land scams and charges of corruption against his government. He says with just two percent more votes, he will form a government again. Although the Congress central leadership is backing him, Hooda faces opposition from within the Congress ranks, more than even the threat from the opposition.

Senior Congress leaders in Haryana have either left the party in recent months or are on the verge of doing so. Gurgaon Lok Sabha MP Rao Inderjit Singh deserted the Congress this year to join the BJP. He is now a BJP MP and a union minister. Venod Sharma, a former union minister and Hooda’s closest confidant for nearly a decade, quit the Congress in March after having been associated with the party for over four decades.

Former Faridabad MP Avtar Singh Badhana, who was with the Congress for years, too has quit. Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Birender Singh, a bitter critic of Hooda, is on the verge of leaving the party. Senior minister Ajay Singh Yadav quit the Hooda government last month but took back the resignation after pressure from the party leadership.

Yadav and another minister, Kiran Chaudhary, are not on the best of terms with Hooda. The Congress swept the 2005 assembly polls under the leadership of former chief minister Bhajan Lal but it installed Hooda as the chief minister. It got just 40 seats in 2009. Hooda managed to form the government by roping in independent legislators and also engineering defections in the Haryana Janhit Congress, floated by Bhajan Lal and his son Kuldeep Bishnoi.

Though Hooda claims that a majority of Congress leaders are with him, the voice of detractors continues to grow. The Congress high command, still in shock from its humiliating drubbing in the Lok Sabha battle, is left with very limited options but to back Hooda at this stage.