Chhattisgarh Congress president Bhupesh Baghel, who has been named as the new chief minister, is credited with helping the party rise from the ashes of the deadly Naxal attack that wiped out the top party leadership of the state five years ago. Hailing from the influential Kurmi (Other Backward Class) community, which accounts for around 14 per cent of the state population of around 2.5 crore, Baghel, 57, is known for his political acumen with strong leadership qualities.
He took over the reins of the party in October 2014, nearly a year-and-a-half after a Naxal attack in Sukma district in May, 2013, in which many of the party’s senior leaders, including V C Shukla and then party chief Nand Kumar Patel, were killed. Shukla had succumbed to his injuries days after the attack. Baghel led from the front to take on the BJP regime, led by Raman Singh, after being entrusted the task to revive the Congress’ fortunes in Chhattisgarh following the third consecutive defeat in the 2013 Assembly polls.
At that time, the infighting within the Congress was at its peak with a group, led by former chief minister Ajit Jogi, having differences with several other party leaders. Even Baghel and Jogi were apparently not on cordial terms.
In 2015-16, after an audio tape purportedly revealed that the Antagarh Assembly seat bypoll in 2014 was fixed, the state Congress unit expelled Ajit Jogi’s son, Amit Jogi, from the party.
Later, Ajit Jogi, who was accused of acting as a ‘B team’ of Raman Singh, also quit the Congress.
Even at the time of ripples in the party, Baghel, along with then Leader of Opposition in the Assembly T S Singh Deo, continued to play a key role in mobilising and motivating Congress workers, who were disappointed after the party having faced three defeats in the state.
Born on August 23, 1961, in a farmer’s family in Durg district, his political career started in 1980s. He was first elected as an MLA from Patan seat in 1993 and then consecutively in 1998 and 2003 from the same constituency. In the 2008 Assembly polls, he suffered defeat at the hands of BJP’s Vijay Baghel, following which he was given ticket from Raipur for the 2009 Lok Sabha election, which he also lost to the saffron party’s Ramesh Bais. But, he bounced back in the state in 2013 by winning from the Patan Assembly seat and again emerging victorious from the same seat in the recently-concluded polls.
After the formation of Chhattisgarh in 2000, he served as a revenue minister in the Ajit Jogi government (2000-2003). Baghel had been vocal against BJP-led government’s chief minister, Raman Singh, his family members and other ministers, unlike the previous years when most of the senior Congress leaders were seen going soft on the government.
Though, he was embroiled in many controversies, most recently in a sex-CD row purportedly featuring a state minister, he continued his fight against the BJP government. The state’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) had registered a case against Baghel and his family members for alleged irregularities in a land-allotment case last year.
In September, the CBI had filed a charge sheet in the special court here against Baghel, his close aide and journalist Vinod Verma and three others in a sex CD case. Baghel refused to seek bail and remained in judicial custody for a couple of days, saying he will sit on a ‘satyagraha’ in the jail to protest against the government.
He and other Congress leaders alleged that the action against him was politically-motivated. Baghel was also targeted by senior BJP leaders throughout the election campaign over the CD row.