'Down, but not out': Hooda fights back

Bhupinder Singh Hooda (PTI Photo)

In his traditional bastion, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda appears firmly in the saddle.

Overwhelming chants of “Hooda CM ayega” (Hooda will come as chief minister) resonate far and beyond the bounds of his Jat-dominated constituency of Garhi Sampla Kiloi in Rohtak.

His men are his devout followers.

Hooda’s public gatherings are swamped by people who listen to him with rapt attention, then intermittently break into loud claps and cheers every time time Hooda strikes a chord with them.

Hooda’s proven electoral track record as a four-term MP and four-term MLA, twice a chief minister, spanning few decades would leave even the best of the challenger edgy.

But this election, for the 72-year old warhorse of the Congress, is perhaps beyond the poll outcome. Hooda is Congress' best bet and its last hope in Jatlland.

His victory from his stronghold seat may not be hard to come about given the groundswell he generates every time he has thrown the hat in the ring. But his victory will remain inconsequential in the event of Congress failing to recuperate power in Haryana.

Sadly, for the Congress, its prospects of coming to power in the state appear bleak, which is what may arguably spell bouts of trouble for the veteran Congress leader who faces a slew of cases by the CBI. That Hooda may be at the cusp of going to jail has been suggested by incumbent BJP leaders with impunity.

But all that ‘drama’ is yet to unfold.

Hooda knows his constituency, his people and even his adversaries by the back of his hand.

Hooda’s rival candidate is BJP’s Satish Nandal, a prominent Jat leader, who has tasted defeat at the hands of Hooda twice in the past. But Nandal was then a candidate of the Chautala-led INLD. He recently joined the BJP, which is what adds muscle to his candidature. Hooda’s constituency could throw up a surprise in case the non-Jat’s vote for BJP candidate Nandal.

Hooda’s party is in disarray marred with internal strife. As someone who ensured that his writ prevailed in ticket allocation, Hooda may not escape the burden of debacle.

So, is Hooda already making grounds to embrace the aftermath in the event of a Congress defeat?

“The party delayed the change of leadership in Haryana. But better late than never,” Hooda says.

During his campaign, Hooda consciously avoids countering BJP’s campaign strategy surrounding nationalism. Instead, he harps upon Khattar’s failures and gloats upon his achievements as a chief minister for a decade.

Hooda from Garhi Sampla Kiloi (Rohtak)

1999: Victory margin 11,958 votes (54% vote share)

2004: Record victory margin 1,03,635 votes (97% vote share)

2009: Victory margin 72,100 votes (80% vote share)

2014: Victory margin 47,185 votes (60% vote share)

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