By Jaideep Sarin, Chandigarh, Feb 21 IANS | 10 months ago

The year 2014 is crucial for Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda as he faces two elections - the national polls in April/May and the state assembly polls in October.

Considered one of the most powerful chief ministers in the country, given the shots he calls in Delhi's political circles, Hooda has not been able to show the same clout within his party since the beginning of this year.

First it was the election to the Rajya Sabha that saw Hooda being ignored by the Congress high command and his detractor within the party and former union minister Selja being nominated for the seat. As Selja, an open critic of the Hooda government, got elected, all that Hooda could do was to put up a sheepish face. He even had a verbal dig at her but that was of little solace.

The second snub for Hooda was in the naming of Sirsa Lok Sabha MP Ashok Tanwar as the Haryana Congress president. Hooda was pushing for a couple of his own loyalists but the Congress high command had other ideas.

Tanwar, 38, a former Indian Youth Congress president (2005-2010), replaced Hooda loyalist Phool Chand Mullana, 74, who had continued in the post despite losing in the 2009 assembly elections.

Even though Tanwar has no mass base in Haryana, Hooda will not have to take him along in this year of two elections.

Within a space of 15 days, the Congress high command gave these two shocks to Hooda and his camp. Having had his way earlier with the party in recent years, Hooda meekly submitted to the party's will.

Hooda, who first became chief minister in March 2005 and started his second term in October 2009, has an uphill task for himself. Even in the 2009 assembly elections, the Congress could not manage a simple majority in the 90-member assembly. Defections engineered later helped the party stay in power.

The anti-incumbency factor, corruption allegations, huge land scams, detractors like Selja and Birender Singh and other controversies are surely going to take a toll on Hooda's show in these two elections.

Equally worrying for Hooda and his faction in the Congress is the attention the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is giving to Haryana. After the AAP's showing in the December assembly elections in Delhi - where it won 28 of the 70 seats - the party is seeing Haryana as its next big battleground in the Lok Sabha polls.

Even though the Congress is unlikely to dump Hooda in the near future, the New Year has certainly not given him a good political start. The electorate in Haryana too is likely to be unforgiving this time around.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

(Posted on 21-02-2014)

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