Hooda has his way in Haryana Congress candidate list

While balancing caste equations, the Congress has reposed faith in the leadership of former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda as the party announced candidates for eight of the nine seats it will be contesting in the state, with seven of these tickets handed to his aides.  A report by Aayush Goel

Bhupinder Singh Hooda

The electoral battle in Haryana heats up as Congress has after weeks of deliberation unveiled its list of 8 candidates for 9 Lok Sabha seats it plans to contest. The party has skipped fielding a candidate at Kurukshetra offering it to Aam Aadmi party (AAP) and it is still to decide between actor Raj Babbar and Ahir stalwart Captain Ajay Yadav for Gurgaon seat.

AAP, a constituent of the opposition INDIA bloc, has already declared its candidate Sushil Gupta from the Kurukshetra seat as per the seat agreement with Congress. Gupta is AAP’s Haryana state President and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

Though the Congress list has taken caste equations into account, it has also established supremacy of former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Seven of these 8 tickets have been handed out to his close associates and supporters, aiming to bolster his position ahead of the assembly polls. “Party has chosen those who have better prospects in their constituencies and all leaders will abide by the party’s mandate. We are all fighting for a common cause and have no differences when it comes to the intent of defeating BJP,” said Hooda.

While war is on for Gurgaon constituency which is biggest in terms of voters and has nine assembly segments dominated by Yadav-Ahir voters, the ignorance of two prominent political families in this list has started infighting in the party with high command trying its best to keep things calm. As Ajay Yadav does not belong to Hooda faction his supporters claim the former CM wants to end his political career by removing him from the contender’s list.

As expected Bhupinder Hooda’s son and Rajya Sabha MP Deepender Singh Hooda has been fielded for Lok Sabha from Hooda’s home turf,  Rohtak. Hooda, a four time MP will be contesting against sitting BJP MP Arvind Sharma. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Sharma defeated Deepender by a thin margin of nearly 7,500 votes. Former Union minister and Congress general secretary Kumari Selja will be the candidate from the Sirsa reserved seat. She has been pitted against former Haryana Congress president and now a turncoat BJP candidate Ashok Tanwar in Sirsa.

Amongst all choices, the one that has raised many eyebrows, Congress has fielded youth leader Divyanshu Budhiraja against former CM Manohar Lal Khattar from Karnal. Khattar is a two time CM from BJP now succeeded by his close associate Nayab Saini. Khattar enjoys immense popularity in the Punjabi community and according to political experts Budhiraja has been fielded to tackle this caste equation.

The 31-year old leader, a native of Sonepat’s Gohana, has been president of the Panjab University Student’s Council representing the National Students Union of India (NSUI) in 2014.  BJP leader and former Home Minister Anil Vij has mocked his candidature saying a goat has been put in field against lion and Congress has already accepted defeat in Karnal and made him scapegoat. From Bhiwani-Mahendragarh, the Congress has replaced Shruti Choudhry (granddaughter of former CM Bansi Lal) with Rao Dan Singh. The constituency has traditionally been considered a traditional seat of the family of Bansi Lal. But this time the party appears to have changed its strategy while fielding an OBC community member against sitting BJP MP Dharambir Singh who comes from the Jat community. The constituency also has a high number of Yadav voters and Dan Singh, a Hooda loyalist, is expected to get their support. Even JJP has fielded an Ahir candidate Rao Bahadur Singh. He is owner of the chain of schools RPS and enjoys popularity in the community.

In another shocker, the Congress did not field Brijendra Singh from the Hisar seat. Singh is the son of former Union minister Chaudhary Birender Singh and had won the 2019 parliamentary elections from Hisar as a BJP candidate. In March this year, he joined the Congress and resigned from the Lok Sabha membership. While cold shouldering Brijendra Singh, the Congress has fielded former Union Minister Jai Prakash who is close to Hooda. From Ambala, the party has fielded sitting MLA from Mulana Varun Choudhary. Varun is the son of former Haryana Congress president Phool Chand Mullana, a long-time associate of Hooda. From Sonipat, the party has fielded a Hooda associate Satpal Brahmachari, while former state minister Mahendra Pratap has been fielded from Faridabad.

 Balancing caste equations

The All India Congress Committee says the party relied upon internal surveys carried out in constituencies to know the winnability of candidates and caste equations have been kept in mind while declaring candidates. It has given two tickets each to Jats, Dalits, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). One each has been given to the Punjabi and Brahmin communities. The party’s list, according to political experts, is a response to BJP’s caste arithmetic.

In Faridabad, BJP candidate Krishan Pal Gurjar is from the Gurjar community and Congress thus chose Gurjar leader Mahendra Pratap. Rao Dan Singh, who comes from the Ahir community, is the Congress’s choice to take on the BJP’s Jat candidate Dharambir in Bhiwani and former MLA Rao Bahadur Singh of JJP (former deputy CM Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janta Party).

BJP in Sirsa and Ambala, which are SC-reserved seats, has fielded Ashok Tanwar and Banto Kataria and thus Congress fielded Selja in Sirsa and Varun from Ambala. In Rohtak, BJP’s Arvind Sharma, a Brahmin, will take on Deepender Hooda, a Jat. Hisar will see a Jat versus Jat contest between BJP’s Ranjit Singh and Congress’ Jai Prakash. In Sonipat, where the BJP has fielded Brahmin candidate Mohan Lal Badoli, the Congress has fielded Satpal Brahmachari who is also from the same community.

Punjabi versus Punjabi contest will be seen in Karnal where Budhiraja will take on Khattar. As per the 2011 Census, SCs constitute 20.1% of Haryana’s population while OBCs make up 40.94% of the population. The Jat community constitutes approximately 27% of the population. According to Lokniti, a research institute of the Delhi-based Centre for Developing Societies (CSDS), the BJP got 74% of the vote share as compared to Congress’ 18% among the “upper castes”. Among Jats, it received 50% of the votes as compared to 33% of the Congress. Among the OBCs, the BJP got 73% of the votes, while the Congress managed to get 22% of the votes. The BJP got 58% of the votes among SCs, while the Congress secured 28% of the votes in the community. The Congress got 86% of Muslim votes, which has been its traditional vote bank, while the BJP got only 14% of the votes in the community.

Heavyweights cold shouldered

Brijendra Singh, the son of Congress stalwart and former Union Minister Birender Singh, and Shruti Choudhry, the daughter of sitting Congress MLA Kiran Choudhry, have been denied tickets. Though a long time Congressman, Birender had joined the BJP in 2014. After joining the Congress, Brijendra has been pitching for a ticket for Lok Sabha election, and even met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to make his case. However, party sources said the ground survey conducted by the Congress showed that he was facing resentment among people on the issue of farmers’ agitation.

In response to the party’s denial to candidature for his son, Birender Singh has expressed disappointment, emphasizing Brijendra’s eagerness to contest the elections. Meanwhile, Haryana Congress President Uday Bhan clarified that Brijendra had not joined the party with any assurance of a ticket but rather based on his alignment with the party’s ideology.
Similarly, the Congress has not nominated anyone from the family of former CM Bansi Lal, another influential political lineage in Haryana. Former MP Shruti Choudhry, Bansi Lal’s granddaughter, who was eyeing a ticket has been overlooked by the party. While the party says there is no rebellion, Birender Singh and Shruti’s mother and Tosham MLA Kiran Choudhry have summoned supporters for a meeting for further course of action. However Brijender has declared he won’t campaign till asked to do so.