Sixty-two year old Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Haryana’s Chief Minister for four years, started his election campaign on April 11 with 81 public meetings in a day. “I have been traveling village to village, holding over 50 meetings daily,” he says.
For the man who defeated former deputy Prime Minister Chaudhary Devi Lal thrice — in parliamentary elections of 1991, 1996 and 1998 — it is time to raise the bar. Hooda is trying to better the 2004 tally when Congress had lost only one Lok Sabha seat (Sonepat) in the state.
“People are happy with us. We will win all 10 seats,” the chief minister claims, refuting allegations that he has sidelined some state leaders and is offering little support to some key candidates. Excerpts from an interview with Shivani Singh:
You are a Jat leader. Is your community united in backing the Congress in these elections?
I belong to a political family that has been with the Congress for generations. Why just Jats, people from all castes will vote for the Congress this time.
Is Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Dal a serious threat to the Congress in these elections?
Not at all. In the last assembly elections, they could not even manage 10 seats that would have entitled them for the post of the leader of the Opposition in Haryana Assembly. These leaders play caste politics in their self-interest. But people have realised that no one caste can function in isolation. You can’t build a road to be used only by a certain caste.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded candidates from all 10 seats…
It will still be a clean sweep for the Congress. We will win all 10 seats.
But surely the BSP will eat into your Dalit votes?
When I talk about a clean sweep, I mean the Congress will get vote from every section of the society.
But vote banks do exist. What are your strategies to woo these segments?
Our basic strategy is to emphasise the policies and the achievements of the UPA and the Haryana governments. Development is our poll plank and people are totally satisfied with us. I have not found a single election since 1952 when anti-incumbency was not an issue. But things are different now after our good performance.
Will former Congress chief minister Bhajan Lal and his Haryana Janhit Congress dent the Congress vote?
Bhajan Lal is contesting from Hissar while his younger son (Kuldeep Bishnoi) is the president of this party. Three MLAs who broke away from Congress contested the by-elections. But only Bhajan Lal managed to win.
One of them even lost his deposit. This party has no mass base.
Is it true that you alienated senior Congress leaders and MPs like Kumari Selja and Rao Inderjit Singh?
I do not have any problems with anyone. Selja and Inderjit have been my colleagues in Parliament. Rather, I started my campaign with Ambala, Selja’s constituency. Even last elections, I started from her constituency. All MPs have their own clout.
Why are you not supporting former chief minister Bansi Lal’s granddaughter Shruti Chaudhary who is contesting from Bhiwani?
I am supporting each and every Congress candidates. Mera kya hai?
Why did you sideline your finance minister Birender Singh, a strong Jat leader, and deny him a ticket from Sonepat?
How can he be sidelined if he is the finance minister and chairman of the purchase committee in the state? I don’t know (if he was trying for a ticket). He did not talk to me. There were discussions in the selection committee but ultimately it was decided not to give him the ticket.