Upbeat Haryana Congress Faces Problem of Plenty

By Jaideep Sarin

Chandigarh, Sep 2 (IANS):  Having sought early assembly polls in Haryana, the state's ruling Congress faces a peculiar problem now. There are too many leaders wanting a slice of the pie as they vie for party nominations.

Bhupinder Singh Hooda, in his very first term as chief minister, will lead the party in the Oct 13 polls after getting the assembly dissolved seven months ahead of its term-end.

Seeking early polls was certainly not out of place. The Congress had romped home in nine out of 10 parliamentary constituencies in the May general election this year. The party, which had 62 legislators in the dissolved house of 90 members, was found leading in 59 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha poll.

But the Congress is not really worried about a decimated opposition - Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the newly floated Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC). The threat comes from within.

Senior Congress leaders admit that given the party's sure chances of returning to power, the list of ticket seekers has become endless.

"This is a worrying factor. Everyone thinks that they are going to win, thanks to the party. Those who will not get the ticket could work against the party or its candidates. Sitting legislators also have to be given the ticket," a minister in the Hooda government told IANS.

Ticket hopefuls are already camping in Delhi, the proximity of the state to the nation's capital and its power corridors coming in handy for them.

Even opposition leaders, including those from the INLD and others, are expecting the fight within the Congress to give them a better showing in the assembly polls.

Hooda will have a final say on most seats. His equation with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other top central leaders of the party will ensure that all his men will be accommodated.

The chief minister himself has said that some candidates could be changed on existing Congress seats. "This will be done keeping in mind the winning ability of candidates," he told IANS recently.

But Hooda's task may not be that easy. The recent catch - personally supervised by Hooda - of leaders from the INLD and other parties could now be a burden on the Congress as the seniors among them have to be accommodated. Among the big names to join the Congress recently was former finance minister and INLD leader Sampat Singh.

Congress leaders are already upset that some of the new entrants will affect the political fortunes of existing party leaders. "They have come to us unconditionally. We will see how we use their services," Hooda said.

With assembly polls set to be held after the delimitation of seats, some of the leaders are likely to seek new seats to fight. These include some sitting legislators and ministers.

Former deputy chief minister and four-time Congress legislator, Chander Mohan, who messed up his personal and political life with his on-off marriage, religion change and divorce saga with lawyer Anuradha Bali aka Fiza, may find no friends in the Congress to back his name for the Panchkula (earlier Kalka) assembly seat.

The INLD, which is the main opposition party in the state, had managed a lead in only seven assembly segments in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

But former chief minister and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala says the assembly elections are a totally different ball game. "The Congress will soon realize this," Chautala said. In the dissolved assembly, the INLD had only eight legislators.

In the May Lok Sabha polls, the BJP, fighting jointly with the INLD, managed a lead in seven assembly segments while the BSP, which went alone, managed a lead in eight segments. The BJP has recently again snapped ties with the INLD.

The HJC, which has now formed an alliance with the BSP and hopes to dent Congress votes, had led in nine assembly segments.

When it came to power in the February 2005 assembly elections, the Congress was led by former chief minister Bhajan Lal, who has now founded the HJC. Hooda pipped him to the post of chief minister at that time. The Congress had returned to power in Haryana after being out of it for nine years.

The Hooda government is expecting a better result in the Oct 13 polls, claiming that development work and a good, responsive administration have fetched the party good support among the people. Even issues like anti-incumbency, drought-like conditions and other local problems did not discourage the Congress from seeking early polls and take the opposition head on.


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