While he faces political challenges galore as he pads up to fight for a third innings as Haryana chief minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is already the most popular person among the state's sporting fraternity that is bringing laurels to the country.
Thanks to the largesse extended to medal-winning sportspersons by his government in the state since March 2005, Hooda has emerged as "No. 1", a phrase he commonly employs to refer to Haryana's progress in all fields under his government, among all chief ministers in the country.
Huge cash rewards, jobs in the police and other departments, luxury cars like Audis and SX-4s, smartphones, land for sports academies, stadiums for villages of sportspersons and hundreds of kilograms of desi ghee, or clarified butter, Hooda has certainly pampered Haryana's achiever sportspersons with goodies.
The results are there for all to see. Between 25 to 30 percent of all medal-winning sportspersons for the country in the Olympics, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games have a Haryana connection.
"Bhupinder Singh Hooda has honoured sportspersons who have brought laurels to the country in real terms. They have got cash rewards, jobs and other things. Players from other states now want to represent Haryana now," wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt says.
In the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games (CWG), out of 101 medals won by India, 35 were by players from Haryana. In the recent Glasgow CWG, of India's 64 medals, 22 were bagged by Haryana's players.
Boxers like Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar, wrestlers like Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and discuss thrower Krishna Punia have brought laurels to Haryana and to the country in recent international events.
Himself a badminton and tennis enthusiast who plays regularly, Hooda does not miss any opportunity to honour sportspersons. Even as he faces an uphill assembly elections in October, his government has already announced a big hike in cash rewards for medal winners in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Winners of gold, silver and bronze medals at the event will get Rs.5 crore ($824,000) Rs.3 crore and Rs.1 crore. The reward for a gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was Rs.1 crore and was doubled for the 2012 London Olympics.
This is much higher than the Rs.2.25 crore, Rs.1 crore and Rs.51 lakh given in neighbouring Punjab and Rs.2 crore, Rs.1 crore and Rs.50 lakhs given by Himachal Pradesh.
"We want our youth to do well in sports. We have a campaign to identify talent at a very young age. Hundreds of thousands of children are eagerly participating in that. The rewards and incentives of international players have yielded results for all to see," Hooda told IANS.
In the past decade, 14,901 sportspersons got cash rewards of nearly Rs.82 crore from the Hooda government.
For gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the Asian Games, Haryana has announced rewards of Rs.2 crore, Rs.1 crore and Rs.50 lakh. In comparison, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh offer only Rs.26 lakh, Rs.20 lakh and Rs.15 lakh.
For the CWG, Haryana offers Rs.1 crore, Rs.50 lakh Rs.25 lakh for gold, silver and bronze medal winners respectively compared to just Rs.15 lakh offered by Punjab for gold medal winners.
In the 2012 London Olympics, 19 members of the 83-strong Indian contingent were from Haryana. Of the six medals (2 silver, 4 bronze) won, Haryana players bagged four.
In the past nearly a decade, some Rs.700 crore has been spent on sports and sportspersons.
Six hundred and forty-three sportspersons have been given government jobs. Boxers Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar, wrestlers Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt and Ramesh Gulia were appointed deputy superintendents of police (DSPs) in the Haryana Police. Woman hockey player Surinder Kaur and mountaineer Mamta Sauda were also appointed as DSPs.
In all, 18 players have been made DSPs, 21 made inspectors, 35 made sub-inspectors and 336 appointed as constables.
Even players from other places like wrestler Sushil Kumar (Delhi), badminton ace Saina Nehwal (Hyderabad), shooter Gagan Narang (Hyderabad), who have a family connection with Haryana, have benefited from the cash and other rewards.
From nil rural sports complexes in 2004-05 to 226 in 2014-15, the sporting culture in Haryana has caught on. In addition, 15 sports academies have been set up in various disciplines.