The Congress party on Sunday ended the suspense prevailing over its pick for Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and declared that its state unit president Bhupesh Baghel will take over at the helm of affairs. The Congress party’s choice, which came after intense deliberations between four of its prominent hopefuls, is guided by its prospects for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. An OBC, Baghel has worked for four years as the party chief, has been a strong critic of former CM Raman Singh and steered the revival of his party in the state after the Jhiram massacre that virtually wiped out the party’s entire leadership.
According to a report in The Indian Express, it is Baghel’s stature as an OBC leader in the state that propelled him to the top post in Chhattisgarh. He holds good command over the OBC population of the state that constitutes 45% of its total strength of 2.55 crore. A section of the Congress was of the firm view that an OBC Chief Minister would help the party in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
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Baghel was among the three frontrunners for the top job in the state. The two others were TS Singhdeo and Tamradhwaj Sahu. While Singhdeo is a Rajput, Sahu is an OBC just like Bagel and heads the Congress’ OBC cell. Singhdeo is seen as a soft-spoken leader and had the support of MLAs. He was the Leader of Opposition in the previous Assembly but didn’t fit the bill, probably because he comes from an upper caste.
The report said that Sahu who also is an OBC was not acceptable to Singhdeo and Baghel. Sahu is also a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body.
Fifty seven-year-old Baghel hails from the Kurmi community which constitutes 20% of the state’s. He was made the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee (CPCC) chief in October 2014 after the 2013 Maoist attack that wiped out the party’s leadership. The attack had left former state minister Mahendra Karma and Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel dead among 28 others.
It is believed that Baghel’s candidature gained strength not just due to his caste credentials but also for his role in the party’s revival in the state and keeping the Congress in limelight through relentless attacks at the Raman Singh dispensation.
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Citing sources, IE reported that an agreement between Baghel and Singhdeo was discussed on Sunday in Delhi. As per the report, both leaders are likely to see two-and-a-half years in office each as CM. After the meeting in Delhi with Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Baghel and other senior leaders arrived in Raipur following which a meeting of newly elected Congress MLAs was called at the Congress headquarters. The MLAs said that Seinghdeo moved a motion proposing Baghel’s name which was supported by Sahu and former Union minister Charan Das Mahant who was also in the race for top office. The motion was then unanimously accepted by the MLAs and an announcement was made about Baghel.
After an announcement was made, Baghel left for Raj Bhavan to meet the Governor. He staked the claim to form the next government and then visited the guest house where meetings were held with senior government officials.
Speaking to reporters, Baghel said that his priority will be the loan waiver in first 10 days that the party had promised to farmers during the campaign. He also said that the government will be looking to set up an SIT into the Jhiram attack.
“I am confident that this will be a government that will take everyone along and a new Chhattisgarh will be built,” he said.
Baghel is currently out on bail and chargesheeted by the CBI in a case for allegedly distributing fake sex CDs of a senior BJP minister. He has, however, termed charges fake.
Chhattisgarh CM: The OBC factor
A Congress leader told The Indian Express that the biggest factor behind Baghel’s selection was the fact that he hailed from an OBC community. The leader said that PL Punia and other general secretaries pushed very hard on the OBC factor.
“That this is an OBC state, and the election was swung on OBC votes coming to the Congress, and therefore for 2019, there should be an OBC leader. All three, other than Singhdeo, fit the bill,” the leader said.
Chhattisgarh CM: Who is Bhupesh Baghel?
Born on 23 August 1961 to a Kurmi farmer family, Baghel began his political career in early 80s under the guidance late Durg MP Chandulal Chandrakar. He joined Indian Youth Congress (IYC) in 1985. He served as president of IYC’s Durg district. Between 1994-95, he was made the vice-president of Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress.
He was elected as an MLA for the first time in 1993 from Patan constituency in united Madhya Pradesh. Baghel had also served in Digvijaya Singh’s Cabinet in 1998 and promoted as Minister of Transport in 1999. In 2000, he was appointed as the chairman of MP State Road Transport Corporation.
When Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000, he became the first Minister for Revenue, Public Health Engineering and Relief Work. In 2003 elections, he was again elected as an MLA from the same seat. Between 2003 and 2008, he served as the Deputy Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly. In the 2008 assembly elections, he lost from Patan seat but recaptured it in 2013 elections. In October 2014, he was appointed as the chief of Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee.