New Delhi:Seeking to retain power in Haryana as it takes on a disjointed opposition, the BJP on Monday released its first list of 78 candidates including Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has been fielded from Karnal again, and three noted sportspersons for the October 21 polls to the 90-member assembly.

The BJP dropped seven MLAs including two ministers, Vipul Goel and Rao Narbir Singh, and rewarded INLD turncoats with tickets.

Making their electoral debut, wrestler Babita Phogat, former Indian hockey captain Sandeep Singh and Olympic medallist Yogeshwar Dutt- all of whom joined the party in recent weeks- will contest from Dadri, Pehowa and Baroda respectively, BJP national general secretary Arun Singh told reporters here.

The candidates include nine women and two Muslims.

He said the party's central election committee, which had met on Sunday, has repeated 38 MLAs and dropped seven of them.

Khattar will contest from Karnal seat which he won in 2014.

Haryana BJP president Subhash Barala is in the fray in Tohana, Captain Abhimanyu in Narnod and Om Prakash Dhankar in Badli, Singh said.

Former Union minister and Jat leader Birender Singh's MLA wife Prem Lata Singh will contest from Uchana Kalan, a seat she had won in 2014.

Aditya Devilal, a grandson of Jat stalwart Devi Lal, has been fielded from Dabwali, the Chautala clan's bastion represented by Naina Chautala who is the wife of former MP Ajay Singh Chautala. .

The last date for filing nominations is October 4.

With the opposition weakened by desertion among its ranks and shrinking support base, as seen in the recent Lok Sabha polls, the BJP is confident of returning to power with a bigger mandate.

Riding on 'Modi wave', the party had stormed to power in Haryana for the first time in 2014, winning 47 seats. It had earlier been part of non-Congress governments as a junior partner and was never seen as a principal force.

Since coming to power it has consolidated its political position further in the state as its rivals, Congress and INLD, were hit by internal fight made worse by their repeated poor shot in different polls.

This coupled with "popular support" to the party following the Union government's decision to nullify Article 370 will further boost its chances in the polls, its leaders have said.

The party had won Jind bypolls earlier this year, taking its strength to 48. The BJP has set a target of winning 75 plus seats this time.

The party believes that Khattar, who was a surprise pick for the CM post after the 2014 win, enjoys a clean image after running a government "untainted" by any allegation of corruption. He is again the party's choice for the top post.

In 2014, the BJP had benefited from the consolidation of non-Jat voters behind it in a state long dominated by leaders from the community. The party's choice of Khattar, who is from the Punjabi community, was apparently driven by it.

The party is, however, hopeful of winning over a significant section of Jats this time.

Vipul Goel and Rao Narbir Singh, both ministers, were sitting MLAs from Faridabad and Badshahpur constituency respectively. Deputy Speaker Santosh Yadav, who represented Ateli constituency in Mahendergarh district, too was denied ticket.

While Goel has been replaced by Narinder Gupta, Manish Yadav comes in for Rao Narbir Singh and Sita Ram Yadav has replaced Santosh Yadav.

The ministers who have been re-nominated include Capt Abhimanyu, Ram Bilas Sharma, Anil Vij, Krishan Kumar Bedi, Karan Dev Kamboj, Kavita Jain and O P Dhankar.

Sources said Khattar, who has emerged as a powerful leader of the party delivering results on the ground, has had a major say in the selection of candidates.

Several Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) turncoats, majority of them sitting MLAs, have been major gainers. Among them is Ranbir Gangwa who will fight from Nalwa, Zakir Hussain from Nuh, Naseem Ahmed from Ferozepur Jhirkha, Nagender Bhadana from Faridabad NIT, Ram Chand Kamboj from Rania.

Lone Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Balkaur Singh, whose entry into BJP fold recently had angered SAD, has also been rewarded with a ticket from his Kalanwali reserved seat in Sirsa.

Besides, INLD leader from Rohtak district, Satish Nandal, who also joined the BJP recently, will fight from Garhi Sampla Kiloi, from where former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is sitting legislator.

Ram Kumar Kashyap, former INLD leader who switched over to BJP, will fight from Indri. Parminder Dhull, an MLA who too crossed over to saffron outfit,will fight from his seat Julana. PTI