Rohtak (Haryana): Once you cross the Delhi border and enter Haryana, you will see all round development taking place across Haryana's Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonepat districts. A beautiful six-lane highway takes you to Rohtak city in less than 50 minutes from Bahadurgarh, the fast developing city on the Haryana-Delhi border.
Even though, Haryana received scanty rainfall during this monsoon, the paddy, wheat and sugarcane fields are lush green indicating that it has got good irrigation facilities.
Rohtak city looks clean, well organised and full of newly built educational institutions, malls, hospitals, government offices and housing colonies. Almost every road is asphalted and there are hardly any potholes. Traffic is well maintained and there are signs of prosperity everywhere.
It is Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda's hometown. Even his bitter critics admit that Hooda has done a lot for Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonepat in the 10 years of his rule. Whoever visits these areas agree that Hooda's claims on development are actually true. But, he is on a sticky wicket this time in his own stronghold for which he has done a lot.
In 2009 elections, the Congress won all 9 assembly seats in Rohtak Lok Sabha seat represented by Hooda's son Dipender Singh Hooda. This time, the Congress is facing a very tough fight in at least 5 of these seats.
In an around Rohtak city, there are four assembly seats - Rohtak City, Kalanaur, Meham and Garhi Sampla Kiloi. Hooda is the sitting MLA of Garhi Sampla Kiloi.
This constituency is in the outskirts of Rohtak city and has more than 50% Jat voters and Hooda is expected to win this time too. But, the locals predict that Hooda may not win by a big margin this time. They argue that Hooda is facing a tough three cornered contest between him, the Chautalas' Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the new entrant BJP.
Speaking to IBNLive, a hukkah smoking local Jat villager Ramlal said, "Hooda has done a lot. It was not like this, just 10 years ago. If you go by the development alone, he has brought to us, he should easily win all 9 seats from the region. But, that is not the case this time. More than development, the caste is playing a major role and it is not working in his favour this time."
A voter in Hooda's constituency, Jyoti Mallik makes a counter argument over Hooda's development claims. She said, "Rohtak has been an old district. Both Jhajjar and Sonepat were carved out of it. It has not been a backward district. Hooda may have added a few facilities to it. Building good roads alone can't be the sole criteria to judge his achievements or performance. He has helped only his people."
Local journalist Deepak Bhardwaj explains that Haryana has over 25% Jat votes. Being a Jat, Hooda has done a lot for the Jats angering the others.
Traditionally, the Jats are anti-Congress and always voted for Charan Singh, Devi Lal and now the Chautalas. Even though Hooda has done so much for his caste, most of them are still backing the INLD of the Chautalas.
The core voters of the Congress are non-Jat castes like Brahmins, Baniyas, OBCs, Dalits and Punjabis. They don't like the Jat domination and always voted for the Congress to keep the INLD out of power.
Hooda's Jat appeasement has upset these castes and they are likely to back the BJP this time. They allege that Hooda has given government jobs only to his people and in some cases, four members from the same family has got government jobs and in some cases none in a family has got any job.
Another voter from Rohtak city, Kaushik says that people are tired of 10 years rule of the Hooda clan and they desperately looking for a change. He said, "For the people, it does not matter that Hooda has done a lot for Rohtak region and developed it so well. They just want change. The BJP is taking the advantage of this peculiar situation, this time."
Speaking to IBNLive outside the beautiful Lalhi cricket stadium where Sachin Tendulkar played his last Ranji match, Shivani Grewal, a local resident said "Chautalas going to jail has generated a lot of sympathy for the INLD. The people blame the Congress for this. Now the ruling BJP at the Centre is also misusing the CBI to harass the Chautalas ahead of voting. These things may help the INLD to emerge as the single largest party, if not the clear winner."
Out of four seats in and around Rohtak, the Congresss is expected to win just Garhi Sampla Kiloi held by Hooda. In the remaining three seats of Rohtak city, Kalanaur and Meham, the sitting Congress MLAs are facing a very tough fight from the INLD and the BJP.
Kalanuar, just 20 KM from Rohtak is a reserved seat for the Dalits. The BJP once won this seat. When IBNLive visited the constituency, the BJP MP from Mathura and the 'dream girl' of Hindi cinema Hema Malini was addressing a big public meeting. If the turnout at the meeting is an indication of the imminent change, the BJP is really doing very well in the state.
Local BJP workers claim that even the Dalits are unhappy with the Congress and want to give it a chance, this time. BJP national spokesperson Vijay Sonkar Shastri, who was in Rohtak on Friday said that the BJP would protect the interest of the Dalits and they would back the party, this time.
However, what may even work in favour of the INLD is possible splitting of anti-INLD votes between the Congress and the BJP.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who has ruled Haryana for two full terms, is finding the current election the toughest in his entire political career. If he manages to retain his fiefdom, even if he loses the state, he can still remain as a force to be reckoned with. If he fails, then it can well be the beginning of the end of Hooda 'Empire' in the Rohtak region.