Haryana's ruling Congress may have to find new candidates for nearly half of the 10 Lok Sabha seats from the state for the general elections expected in April-May.
Having won nine of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 general elections, the stakes for the Congress are high. Though no one gives the Congress any chance of repeating that performance, chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda seems supremely confident that the party could even win all the 10 seats this time round. The confidence, though, may seem a little far-fetched, given the overall mood against the Congress.
With the election of former union minister Selja to the Rajya Sabha from Haryana, her Ambala Lok Sabha constituency will see the Congress fielding a new candidate this year. Selja had represented the constituency since 2004.
Selja, an open critic of the Hooda government, had won by a margin of just over 11,000 votes in 2009. This time, had she contested, things would have been very tough for her. While Selja and the Congress took the easy way out via the Rajya Sabha route, much to the annoyance of Hooda, the state leadership will now have to find a suitable replacement within a limited time-frame.
The Congress party, which has been in power in the state since March 2005 with chief minister Hooda firmly in command, will have to look for new candidates for the Lok Sabha seats from Gurgaon, adjoining the national capital, and from Hisar. Finding new and winning candidates for all these seats is not going to be an easy task for the Congress.
With the sitting Congress MP from Gurgaon, former union minister Rao Inderjit Singh, having recently announced that he would leave the Congress, the party will have to look for a new face. Inderjit Singh, who has been critical of the Hooda government in recent years, had even questioned the controversial land deals of Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra in Gurgaon and other places in Haryana.
There are indications that Inderjit Singh could join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Gurgaon seat could throw up an interesting contest with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which recently tasted success in the Delhi assembly elections, becoming politically active in the constituency. There are indications that senior AAP leader Yogendra Yadav could be fielded from Gurgaon.
The Congress is also looking for a new candidate for the Hisar Lok Sabha seat. In the last by-election to this seat in October 2011, Congress candidate Jai Prakash finished a poor third and even lost his security deposit. This was embarrassing for the ruling Congress and for Hooda.
The seat was won by Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) leader Kuldip Bishnoi, son of former chief minister Bhajan Lal. In the 2009 general elections, Bhajan Lal had won the seat. This was the only seat in Haryana that did not came the Congress way.
There is speculation in the Congress that candidates could be changed for at least two other Lok Sabha seats. One of these could be Karnal, where incumbent Arvind Sharma was recently embroiled in a controversy with Haryana Assembly speaker Kuldeep Sharma.
Those in the Congress who are sure to again contest include Hooda's son Deepinder Hooda (Rohtak), Shruti Chaudhary (Bhiwani-Mahendergarh), industrialist Naveen Jindal (Kurukshetra), Ashok Tanwar (Sirsa) and Avtar Singh Bhadana (Faridabad).
With assembly elections to follow in October, the Congress has an uphill task for itself in the coming months.