Congress counts on Hooda to re­gain lost ground

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation - Man­[email protected]

Chandigarh: The big chal­lenge be­fore Congress leader Bhupin­der Singh Hooda, who is fac­ing a slew of CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tions into land ac­qui­si­tion and al­lot­ment dur­ing his terms as the chief min­is­ter, in the up­com­ing assem­bly elec­tions is to re­tain his own bas­tion of Old Ro­htak — assem­bly seats in the Ro­htak, Soni­pat and Jha­j­jar dis­tricts of the state.

In 2014, Hooda had man­aged to steer Congress to vic­tory in 12 assem­bly seats in his stron­holds de­spite the Modi wave. How­ever, changed equa­tions have turned the ta­bles in favour of the rul­ing Bhar­tiya Janata Party af­ter his own hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in Soni­pat Lok Sabha elec­tion. The de­feat of his son and three-time MP Deep­en­der Singh Hooda from Ro­htak, too, was a set­back for the Congress strong­man.

The CBI and ED cases have added pres­sure on Hooda, who is fac­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into five ma­jor land al­lot­ment and ac­qui­si­tion cases. The CBI has al­ready filed charge sheets in two of the cases and in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing in the re­main­ing three.

Af­ter months of strug­gle and threats of a split to the Congress high com­mand, Hooda man­aged to oust his de­trac­tor Ashok Tan­war from the post of Haryana Congress pres­i­dent. He was ap­pointed the leg­is­la­ture party leader and was given the post of the leader of op­po­si­tion. De­spite the Hooda bravado and an­nounce­ment of a slew of prom­ises at his Au­gust 18 rally in Ro­htak if he were elected the chief min­is­ter, it will be an up­hill task for him to re­tain the assem­bly seats in his strong­hold.

The BJP, flush with its vic­tory in Jat-dom­i­nated ar­eas across the state in the Lok Sabha polls, has adopted a spe­cial strat­egy in Ro­htak, Jha­j­jar and Soni­pat dis­tricts, with all se­nior party lead­ers tour­ing the three dis­tricts. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, Union home min­is­ter Amit Shah and BJP work­ing pres­i­dent J P Nadda have been vis­it­ing the area and have re­cently ad­dressed ral­lies and party events here.

Ac­cord­ing to sources in the BJP, like the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, the party is plan­ning to take on dif­fer­ent is­sues in all nine con­stituen­cies in the three dis­tricts. Se­nior min­is­ters Man­ish Grover, Om Parkash Dhankar and Capt Ab­hi­manyu have been reg­u­larly vis­it­ing th­ese dis­tricts and the BJP has been able to rope in lo­cal lead­ers like INLD’s San­chit Nan­dal, Shamsher Kharkhara and Bal­raj Kundu, and Hooda con­fi­dante and for­mer mayor Renu Dabla to join the party and strengthen its base in ru­ral and ur­ban Ro­htak.

The BJP has al­ready man­aged to break the INLD, which has now been re­duced to three seats, down from the 19 it had won in 2014. Many se­nior INLD lead­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer leg­is­la­tors and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, too have joined the BJP and the party’s fo­cus is on th­ese 12 seats in the Hooda bas­tion.

The Congress has 16 seats in the assem­bly, in­clud­ing 12 from the Hooda stronghold­s. Th­ese 12 seats had put Hooda in a dominating po­si­tion had helped him build pres­sure on the Congress high com­mand to give him con­trol of the party in the state.

*MLAs who have been dis­qual­i­fied or have re­signed for chang­ing par­ties are in­cluded in the count. Two HJC MLAs — Kuldeep and Renuka Bish­noi — have merged their party with Congress

@times­ times­ times­ times­ Dushyant Chau­tala (R) now leads the break­away JJP

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