Hooda's reputation on line in Haryana polls
Rohtak: Bhupinder Singh Hooda has won eight polls, including one against former deputy prime minister Devi Lal. Still, the Haryana Assembly election will be a tough one for the Haryana Congress veteran.
In the run-up to the October 21 polls, Hooda exerted pressure on the party's central leadership, making it replace Ashok Tanwar with Kumari Selja as the party's Haryana unit president.
But to many, as the Congress struggles to revive itself in Haryana, Hooda -- who was made the Congress Legislature party chief in the shakeup -- remains the party's face in the state.
The 72-year-old satrap, who has been chief minister twice and an MP four times, is seeking re-election from his home constituency Garhi Sampla-Kiloi in Rohtak district.
Thirteen candidates are in the fray for this Jat-dominated seat with over two lakh voters.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Satish Nandal, a former Rohtak district unit president of the Indian National Lok Dal who switched sides earlier this year.
Hooda has defeated Nandal twice, in 2009 and 2014 for the constituency, which came into being 10 years ago after a delimitation exercise. Before that the constituency was known as Kiloi.
Hooda has won from Kiloi twice including the 2005 bypoll when he was the Rohtak MP but handpicked by the Congress high command for the assembly contest. He was made the chief minister when the party won 67 out of 90 assembly seats.
His BJP rival Nandal, who has stepped up his campaign in the constituency, boasted at an election meeting in Sanghi village that the ruling party will cross 85 seats this time.
"We undertook overall development and in our next term the pace of work will be further accelerated," he said.
The BJP has made national security, nullifying Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and corruption-free government its poll agenda.
But many voters say the real concerns are basic issues like water, power and health services.
"Shortage of drinking water remains a problem during summers," said a Bohar village resident.
For the Congress, the assembly elections have come barely months after it faced a washout in Haryana in the Lok Sabha polls, losing all 10 parliamentary seats including its stronghold Rohtak.
Congress leaders, however, maintain that issues in the state polls are different. Hooda dismisses the BJP challenge and has trashed the performance of the M L Khattar government.
"Whatever they may claim, people have made up their mind to oust this non-performing government, he told PTI.
"False promises made by the BJP have been exposed before the people and they have failed to fulfil the promises made at the time of the previous elections," he claimed.
He claimed farmers, government employees, workers, traders and the youth have suffered because of the BJP's anti-people policies .
"This government has been hit by various scams, including the cash-for-jobs scam and the illegal mining scam, he alleged.
"But they are experts in event management and trying to cover up their failures," he added.
As the senior-most Congress leader in the state, Hooda faces the challenge of ensuring that party factions put up a joint fight against the BJP.
The public tussle over leadership in Haryana has just played out. Although the Hooda camp managed to get Ashok Tanwar replaced as the state unit chief, the disgruntled leader revolted and quit the party.
In its sweeping Lok Sabha victory, the BJP had breached even the traditional bastions of its opponents. Both Hooda, who fought from Sonipat, and his son and three-time MP Deepender Singh Hooda, who contested from Rohtak, lost.
If south Haryana was on BJP's target in the last polls, it has now set its eyes on the Jat-dominated Deswali region, comprising Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonipat districts, from where Congress had won the most seats in 2014.
"We have overwhelming support of people across the state.
They want to see Congress back in power so that Haryana is once again put on the path of development, he said.
He dismissed the suggestion that his supporters were behind the Jat quota violence in 2016, saying it is Khattar's attempt at trying to escape responsibility for his government's failure to control the protests.
A pro-Hooda banner says, 'Khattar sarkar dokha hai. Haryana bacha lo, ek mauka hai (Khattar government is a fraud. Save Haryana, this is your chance).