Politics in BJP-ruled Haryana is set to heat up with the Election Commission on Saturday sounding the poll bugle. The state will go to the polls in a single phase for its 90 Assembly seats on October 21. The results will be declared on October 24.
Political observers say the ruling BJP this time has an edge over its seemingly divided main rival, the Congress, which ruled the state for a decade till 2014 before losing in the last Assembly polls.
According to the election officials, everything is in place for the smooth conduct of polling in 19,442 boothsacross the state.
A total of 1.82 crore electorates, including 84 lakh women and 239 transgenders, will decide the fate of the candidates.
Political observers say this time the contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress is more or less one sided as the former won all the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Haryana earlier this year, a first in the state's electoral history.
The Congress is still dithering over its chief ministerial candidate. The main contenders are newly-appointed Leader of Opposition and two-time Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and state Congress President and former Union Minister Kumari Shelja, who is known in political circles for her proximity to the party's organisational leadership.
The BJP is also far ahead of its arch-rival as far as campaigning at the grassroots level is concerned.
While first-time Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has already carried out a whirlwind tour of the state ahead of the announcement of poll dates, the Congress is just busy in setting its house in order and boosting the morale of its cadre.
It is literally a do-or-die battle for Bhupinder Hooda, who faced humiliating defeat in the last Lok Sabha elections along with his son Deepender Hooda. The Hoodas are struggling for their political survival.
"This time, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is fighting on two fronts -- one is to re-establish himself and the second is to ensure the party's return as he forced the high command to announce him as the Congress Legislative Party leader and chairman of election management just ahead of the polls despite all odds," a political observer told IANS.
Bhupinder Hooda is facing cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for granting approval to a land deal of Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law Robert Vadra in the fag-end of his second stint as the Chief Minister.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, the BJP had won 47 seats, the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) 19, the Congress 15 while others managed nine.
In recent times, a number of INLD legislators have jumped ship to the BJP. The only saving grace for the Congress was INLD's tall leader Ashok Arora and Independent legislator Jai Prakash joining the party on September 19.
As per the poll share in the Lok Sabha elections held in April-May, the BJP, which won all the 10 seats in the state, got the lead in 79 Assembly seats, the Congress in 10 and the Janmayak Janata Party, an INLD breakaway faction, in one seat.
The Congress is yet to hold a major public meeting in the state with its central leadership, while the saffron party has already lined up its entire top leadership for campaigning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held three public meetings in Haryana so far. So did Union Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the party's working President J.P. Nadda.
The Prime Minister's last rally on September 8 marked the culmination of Khattar's 22-day-long Jan Ashirwad Yatra covering 3,000-km.