Who’s up for battle in Hooda bastion?
Considered the safest seat for the Congress, Rohtak was a bastion of Bhupinder Singh Hooda until he shifted to the assembly and became the chief minister. His son has since won the seat twice, but this time it would be no cakewalk for Deepender Singh Hooda.
Deepender won by massive margins — 2.32 lakh in 2005, and 4.45 lakh in 2009 — and is set to defend his turf. But on the opposition side, only the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has declared its candidate, Naveen Jaihind. Besides the AAP factor, there is the ‘Modi wave’ and the general anti-incumbency that Deepender, lovingly called Deepu, has to overcome.
Within the BJP — banking on the popularity of its prime ministerial nominee and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi — it is being felt that a Jat face is needed to make an impact and counter the popularity of Deepender. The caste is dominant in the segment. The party’s national spokesperson, Capt Abhimanyu, who had unsuccessfully contested from this seat earlier, and former MLA Naresh Malik are lobbying hard to get the ticket. Beside the caste (read Jat) factor, both command huge wealth at their disposal, though Malik also has a reputation for extending generous donations to the brides’ families at weddings in the rural belt.
Another Jat face and senior BJP leader in the ticket fray is Om Prakash Dhankar, the national president of the BJP Kisan Morcha besides. He is also the national coordinator of the committee formed for working towards the ‘Statue of Unity’, a statue of former deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel that is seen as a dream project of Modi. His efforts on this front — in Modi’s bid to appropriate the legacy of veteran freedom fighter and Congressman Patel — have earned him brownie points.
The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has tasted a rare victory in 1999 when Capt Inder Singh from the regional party won against Bhupinder Hooda. Satish Nandal, the party’s district unit president and a businessman having significant resources at his disposal, is among the frontrunners now. Nafe Singh Rathee, who contested the 2009 election against Deepender as the INLD-BJP alliance candidate, is also in the running. Rathee has been MLA twice from Bahadurgarh assembly segment under the Rohtak parliamentary constituency. Late entrant Shamsher Singh Kharkhadda, who contested as an independent from Meham assembly constituency against senior Congress leader Anand Singh Dangi, is being seen as a dark horse from the INLD stable.
However, observers say a truck between the BJP and INLD could pose a real challenge to Deepender. Since their break-up, the BJP has aligned with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) of Kuldeep Bishnoi. But now there are talks of realignment towards a BJP-INLD pact with possible intervention of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patron-in-chief and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who wants his partner BJP to get back together with his friend Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD.
As for the AAP, Jaihind is an old loyalist of the movement and is a national executive member of the party.