A dark horse leaves Hooda in pain (Haryana Newsletter)
When Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda spoke about race horses and wedding horses to refer to Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha candidates this week, he cleverly hid the pain of being haunted by a dark horse - that too a political detractor from his own Congress party.
Hooda, who is one of the most powerful Congress chief ministers and one who gets away with almost everything with the Congress high command in Delhi, lost the race to push one of his favourites for a Rajya Sabha seat from Haryana. The Congress party chose to nominate then union minister for social justice and poverty alleviation Selja, who is considered close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, for one of the two Rajya Sabha seats from Haryana for which elections will be held Feb 7.
Selja, a known detractor of Hooda and his government who has spoken against "discrimination" of her Ambala-reserved Lok Sabha constituency by his government, emerged as the dark horse in the race for Rajya Sabha nominations. In fact, she was pushing for another Dalit leader, Ishwar Singh, whose Rajya Sabha term is ending, for a second term. But when Selja's name was announced, it caught the Hooda camp by surprise and caused a lot of pain.
Hooda was pushing the names of his confidants, two-time Rajya Sabha MP Ram Prakash and Haryana Congress president Phool Chand Mullana, for the seat. Despite his best efforts, the Hooda camp could not secure the seat for its leaders.
Though Hooda and Mullana accompanied Selja when she filed her nomination for the seat this week, the chief minister's anguish on her selection was known Wednesday when he said that those going to the Rajya Sabha were like ceremonial wedding horses while those contesting Lok Sabha elections were like race horses. The obvious reference was to Selja.
With her election a forgone conclusion, Selja can sit pretty for the next six years. She will not have to contest for the Ambala Lok Sabha seat in the April-May general election. Given the fact that she managed to win the seat by just over 11,000 votes in the 2009, Selja was definitely going to have a tough contest this time. With the Hooda camp gunning for her in recent months for her open criticism of the state government, her victory from Ambala would have been an uphill task.
The Congress and Hooda will now have to find a suitable candidate for the Ambala seat. With the Selja camp having considerable influence in the constituency, any Hooda favourite contesting will also have to bank on her camp.
Hooda's concern is not the Lok Sabha elections alone, as the state assembly elections are likely to be held in October. Hooda, who first became chief minister in 2004, managed to get another term in the 2009 elections even though the Congress could not get a simple majority in the 90-member assembly. He will complete nine years in office in March.
The Hooda government will have to face the anti-incumbency vote in both the elections. With the Congress facing the flak at the national level due to corruption and governance issues, the party is definitely on the backfoot in Haryana too. Surely, the dark horse detractor taking away the Rajya Sabha seat from right under his nose has not helped matters for Hooda either.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 31-01-2014)