Assembly elections 2018: Rahul Gandhi faces tough balancing act ahead; wrong choice of CMs could add to Congress trouble

It won't be easy for Congress president Rahul Gandhi to pick the chief minister in the three north Indian states where the party, according to exit polls, may emerge as the winner.

The exit polls suggest a clear victory for the Congress in Rajasthan and a neck and neck fight with incumbent BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. If Congress wins, then Rahul will have to balance the utility of seasoned politicians at the Centre as well young faces to flaunt in 2019 and the need for efficient administrators in the states.

Given their political stature, a couple of chief ministerial possibilities may actually give way to dark horses.

Here's a look at the possible chief ministerial candidates in the three states:

Rajasthan

The exit polls have given a clear indication of the Congress party winning the 2018 Assembly polls in the state, with a majority.

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Ashok Gehlot, 67, a two-term chief minister in the past, is currently the national general secretary of All India Congress Committee (AICC). A five-time Lok Sabha member, Gehlot represents the Sardarpur Assembly constituency in Jodhpur. Prior to this Gehlot had been a minister at the Centre and also served as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president. Known for his organisational skills, Gehlot was in-charge of the Gujarat Assembly Election in 2017. Given his experiences in the state as a chief minister, he’s a time-tested candidate and has a strong appeal across political parties in Rajasthan and people want to see him as the chief minister.

Sachin Pilot, 41, represents the young brigade of promising and emerging leaders in Congress. Son of former Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, currently he’s the Rajasthan Congress chief. A two-term MP, Sachin has served as a minister at the Centre during the UPA regime as well.

As Rahul needs fresh faces at the Centre, Gehlot could be the dark horse to give potency to the new Congress-led government, if it wins.

Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh is another BJP-ruled state with 15 years of Raman Singh government, where the Congress is pinning a lot of hopes and it has several leaders vying for the post of chief minister.

Tribhuvaneshwar Saran Singh Deo, 66, popularly known as ‘TS Baba’ across the state, is the Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly and represents Ambikapur constituency. A scion of the famous Surguja princely state and son of the former chief secretary of undivided Madhya Pradesh, MS Singh Deo, TS Baba exercises a strong influence and popularity in Surguja district, which attests to the fact that out of eight Assembly seats, Congress had won seven in the last election. He’s suave and articulate and an internal survey has given 24 percent votes to TS Baba.

Bhupesh Baghel, 57, an MLA from Patan, was the deputy Leader of Opposition in Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha. A backward-class leader, Baghel has served as a minister in both Digvijaya Singh and Ajit Jogi cabinets, respectively in undivided MP and Chhattisgarh. Active in social reform works, Baghel toured the state on foot and tried to revive the Congress at the organisational level. He actively campaigned across Chhattisgarh during this election. However, according to insiders, his leadership style is not acceptable to many workers in the faction-ridden party in the state.

Tamradhwaj Sahu, 69, is a Lok Sabha MP from Durg. An agriculturist by profession, Sahu had been a minister in the Ajit Jogi government (2000-2003). He is a member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Coal and Steel, and the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. He also had been a president of Sahu community, which has a sizeable presence in Chhattisgarh among OBCs.

Charandas Mahant, 63, is another OBC leader, who was a minister in the Digvijaya Singh cabinet between 1993 and 1998, and later became a Minister of State in the Manmohan Singh government. Son of a former minister in Madhya Pradesh government and highly qualified, Mahant is a three-term Lok Sabha member from Korba and served as a member in various committees of the Parliament. He was made PCC president in 2008, but the party lost the election under his leadership.

Being an influential leader of the backward Sahu community and known as ‘Man Friday’ for Rahul Gandhi, Sahu may emerge as the dark horse in the race for chief minister.

Madhya Pradesh

The exit poll results show a neck and neck fight between the ruling BJP and opposition Congress in Madhya Pradesh. While this election has proved to be the toughest for incumbent chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, it’s equally crucial for the Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 2003. To win Madhya Pradesh, the Congress party, armed with a robust strategy, has given a united fight unlike in the past. It has two strong contenders for the post of chief minister.

Kamal Nath, 72, is one of the longest-serving and most senior members of the Lok Sabha. He has been elected nine times as an MP from Chhindwara constituency and has served as a cabinet minister at the Centre in successive Congress governments. Said to be close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, Nath has a strong national recall and a strong voice at the World Economic Forum. Currently, the Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief, Nath is considered more accommodative and enjoys the support of former chief minister Digvijaya Singh.

Jyotiraditya Scindia, 47, represents the erstwhile princely state of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. He is the son of former Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia, and a Lok Sabha member from Guna. Scindia, who’s professionally qualified and represents the young brigade of promising Congress leaders in the state, had been a central minister during the UPA government. As head of the campaign committee in Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, Scindia campaigned in 115 constituencies, while connecting the workers and voters at the grassroots level.

Kantilal Bhuria, 68, a five-term Lok Sabha member and a tribal leader, exercises a strong influence among tribal voters in the state. He was made a cabinet minister in the UPA government. In this Assembly election, he managed to get tickets for his son and niece, which speaks of his influence within the central leadership of Congress. Bhuria belongs to the tribal district Jhabua.

Last but not the least, Arun Yadav, 44, is the son of former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav in the Digvijaya Singh government in Madhya Pradesh. He had been the president of Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee, a member of Public Accounts Committee and also a minister of state in the UPA-I government. In this election, Arun was made to contest against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan from Budhni.

The selection of a chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, if Congress wins, is going to be a tough job for the party leadership. Though the names of Nath and Scindia are doing the rounds, the party needs an experienced leader like Nath at the Centre especially for his strong networking skills and efficient floor management in the Parliament. But the party equally requires a strong and experienced leader in the state as a chief minister. Simultaneously, Rahul also needs young and emerging leaders like Scindia at the Centre ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. If Congress wins Madhya Pradesh, it would be back to power after a gap of 15 years.

So, who would be the dark horse in Madhya Pradesh?

This is the Congress' best chance to make or break. The party didn’t announce any leader as a chief ministerial nominee to avoid any infighting and provide fodder to factionalism. It was part of the Congress high command strategy. If Congress wins, the final decision to appoint chief ministers in these three states will be taken by Rahul Gandhi.

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2018 19:33:47 IST

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