The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won an unprecedented seven of the eight seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections in Haryana three months ago, appears gung-ho ahead of the assembly polls in the state.
Bolstered by a surge in the number of those wanting to join its ranks, the party, which has always played second fiddle in the state, not only seems keen to prove that its stupendous showing was not just a flash in the pan. The positive buzz has also given wings to ambitions of party leaders eyeing the chief minister’s post.
BJP state unit chief Ram Bilas Sharma, former national spokesman Capt Abhimanyu, former Kisan Morcha national president Om Prakash Dhankar, union ministers Rao Inderjit Singh and Krishan Pal Gurjar, four-time MLA Anil Vij and Manoharlal Khattar, both considered close to Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and some others are harbouring aspirations for the top political post in the state. Then, there is Jat leader Birender Singh, who severed his four-decade-long ties with the Congress to join the BJP a week ago, with his “perennial dream” (to occupy the CM’s chair).
The BJP top brass, however, seems to be in no mood to project anyone as its chief ministerial candidate before the assembly polls. While the party had demonstrated political chutzpah by going into the LS polls with Narendra Modi (then CM of Gujarat) as its prime ministerial candidate, ignoring all naysayers, and reaped rich dividends, Modi and his confidante Amit Shah, who now heads the BJP, seem to have discarded the strategy they had pushed so fervently at that time.
The party leaders are giving the “no-fixed-policy” line, but the foremost reason behind its reluctance to project the CM candidate is lack of a compelling leader with proven electoral track record in the state. Among half-a-dozen aspirants, none can boast of a political standing or pan-Haryana electoral sway to tower over others, emerge as an acceptable choice and take them along or muscle his or her way to emerge as the CM-pick, just the way Modi did last year. Their influence does not extend beyond their own caste or limited pockets of support.
A look at the electoral performance of these hopefuls shows that while some of them have lost four straight elections, there are others who have contested a few times but never won, or have never contested any election. Gurgaon MP Rao Inderjit and Birender Singh, both ex-Congressmen, are both new entrants – the former joined before the parliamentary polls. Another factor is the feeling that if any leader is named as the CM candidate in the present scenario, it might cause acrimony among different camps and upset poll calculations in the caste-ridden state, hurting the party’s prospects.
Then, there is a rickety alliance with the Haryana Janhit Congress whose chief Kuldeep Bishnoi, another putative contender for the post as per the 2011 pact between the two parties, is sulking as the BJP wants to revise the terms in the changed political scene.
While a bedraggled Congress has dared the BJP to name its CM candidate against the present incumbent Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the latter seems set to play the Modi card, counting on his “strong and able leadership” for an encore. Though the early signs of disappointment among a section of the voters with the new BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for not delivering on its “achhe-din” promise are beginning to show, the saffron party strategists appear confident for now.