Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Haryana appears for the first time in a realistic position to take a shot at the power and has strategically refrained from officially naming its chief ministerial candidate, there are several in the saffron party who are harbouring dreams of occupying the coveted chair.
While the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) are probably the only major entities to have declared their chief ministerial candidates — incarcerated Om Prakash Chautala and Kuldeep Bishnoi, respectively, two-time Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who is the face of the party for the October-15 assembly elections, is the strongest contender for the chair in case the Congress comes to power again.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has been known as a one-MLA wonder over the past several elections, too, has tried to project a chief ministerial candidate in former Congress MP from Karnal, Arvind Sharma, who was recently appointed as state party chief by BSP supremo Mayawati.
With Chautala and his elder son Ajay Singh Chautala getting barred from contesting elections on account of being sentenced for 10 years each in the Junior Basic Teachers’ (JBT) recruitment case, his younger son Abhay Chautala seems to be a natural choice for the chief minister’s post in the event of the INLD getting into a position to form the next government.
Ram Bilas Sharma (65)
Strengths: State BJP president, was four-time MLA
Downsides: Has not won an election after 1996.
Manohar Lal Khattar (61)
Strengths: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue, Punjabi face of the party
Downsides: No past electoral experience.
Krishan Pal Gurjar (57)
Strengths: Union minister of state in the Narendra Modi government, three-time MLA and former BJP president. He comes from backward community
Downsides: Questions have been asked by his critics over his proximity with chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
Capt Abhimanyu Sindhu (46)
Strengths: Party’s national secretary and spokesperson, Jat leader
Downsides: Yet to win an election. He lost Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009 from Rohtak and assembly election from Narnaund in 2009.
Birender Singh (68)
Strengths: A tall Jat leader in the Bangar region; Sir Chhotu Ram lineage, five-time Congress MLA and three-time minister
Downsides: Outsider tag, lost the race to occupy top post while in the Congress.
Rao Inderjit Singh (63)
Strengths: Prominent Ahir leader, four-time Congress MLA and MP each, became a union minister of state in the Narendra Modi government despite his recent entry into the BJP. He got assembly tickets for his loyalists from at least three segments
Downsides: Outsider tag, opposition from RSS.
Abhay Chautala (51)
Strengths: Son of INLD chieftain OP Chautala, steering party in the absence of father and elder brother
Downsides: His plainspeak and temperamental disposition.
Kuldeep Bishnoi (46)
Strengths: Son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal, face of the fledgling HJC
Downsides: Inaccessible, yet to prove his leadership skills.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda (67)
Strengths: Two consecutive terms as chief minister, face of the Congress in coming assembly polls, Jat leader
Downsides: Opposition from within the Congress, allegations of being selective in terms of ensuring development and grant of jobs, desertions by party leaders.