Bhupesh Baghel appointed Chhattisgarh chief minister: Congress picks state party chief over 'manifesto man' TS Singh Deo
The rise of Bhupesh Baghel began almost five years ago, after the top leadership of the Chhattisgarh Congress was wiped out in a Maoist attack.
"Organisation man" Bhupesh Baghel has finally been chosen over the "manifesto man" Tribhuvaneshwar Saran Singh Deo as the new chief minister of Chhattisgarh.
After four days of protracted deliberations and brainstorming, Congress president Rahul Gandhi finally took the decision on who the chief minister should be. The announcement was made in Raipur on Sunday afternoon.
Baghel’s rise in state politics began almost five years ago, after the top leadership of the Chhattisgarh Congress was wiped out in a Maoist attack at Jhiram Ghati in Bastar on 25 May, 2013.
The Ajit Jogi-led Congress had lost to the BJP in the 2003 Assembly election. Thereafter, the party also lost the elections in 2008 and 2013, which weakened the organisation deeply.
Baghel’s first challenge after taking over as Chhattisgarh Congress chief four years ago was to consolidate the faction-ridden party and strengthen it at the grassroots level. It was certainly a tough task, especially when the BJP had been wielding immense power at the Centre and in the state.
After the election results were announced on 11 December, Rahul sought a referendum through an app called ‘Shakti’ – a unique experiment of sorts in Chhattisgarh. Nearly two lakh party workers, including the newly-elected legislators, received a pre-recorded call from Rahul seeking their choice for a chief ministerial candidate.
According to sources, Singh Deo was earlier ahead of Baghel in the race for the post of chief minister. However, after a meeting of the Congress' top leadership in Delhi, followed by a meeting of the Congress Legislative Party, the party zeroed in on Baghel's name.
Factors in favour of Baghel
Baghel, the 57-year-old MLA from Patan, was deputy leader of Opposition in the Chhattisgarh assembly. He belongs to the Kurmi caste, which is considered a backward one. He has served as a minister in both the Digvijay Singh and Ajit Jogi cabinets in undivided Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively. After he became president of Chhattisgarh Congress in October 2014, he toured the state on foot and tried to revive the Congress at the organisational level.
Even when he was a minister in the Ajit Jogi government, he had been a strong critic of Jogi, and the two never got along well. After Jogi quit the Congress and became its most bitter critic, the party leadership wanted someone to take both Jogi and the ruling Raman Singh government head on. Baghel was believed to be the right choice.
Baghel is known for his aggressive style of leadership, which has also attracted criticism from a section of party workers. However, this warrior-like image helped him to take the party to victory. The Congress got a landslide victory by winning 68 seats in the 90-member Assembly, while the BJP got only 15 seats.
Baghel had been in jail for 14 days on charges of circulating a "sex CD" involving a senior minister in the Raman Singh government. The BJP claimed that the CD was a fabricated one. However, the issue boomeranged against the saffron party, as the jail term became a factor in favour of Baghel.
While Baghel has been a minister, he also has age on his side. He is younger than Singh Deo and another contender, Tamradhwaj Sahu.
“Baghel's strong anti-establishment image, and his agitations over agrarian issues and rural distress, acted in his favour. He has been vocal against the RSS-BJP combine and has exposed corruption in the Raman Singh government. With strong secular credentials, he led the Congress’ fight against the BJP,” Ruchir Garg, a former senior journalist who joined Chhattisgarh Congress before the polls, told Firstpost.
Garg added, “As he has strong organisational skills, he consolidated the Congress in Chhattisgarh and acted against anti-party people.”
However, the role of TS Singh Deo in the Congress' performance cannot be undermined. The party's manifesto, considered unique among such documents presented by the party in other states, played a pivotal role in the party’s landslide victory.
Singh Deo, 66, popularly known as ‘TS Baba" across the state, was the Leader of Opposition in the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, and represents Ambikapur.
According to party sources, Rahul hailed the manifesto as a unique experiment and asked his research and analytics team to study and replicate it for the 2019 general election.
“Prior to the drafting of the manifesto, party leaders went to the masses and understood their hopes and aspirations, before coming out with a list of the "doable" promises in their manifesto. This ensured that no section of the society was left uncared for. It also ensured that the chances of the party defaulting on its promises were less,” Chhattisgarh-based political commentator Parivesh Mishra said.
“Often, the drafting of a party manifesto is given low priority, and is done behind closed doors. Many promises are left unfulfilled. However, the Congress' Vachan Patra this time had short and long-term goals, with deadlines,” he added.
The third contender, Tamradhwaj Sahu (69), the only Lok Sabha MP from Chhattisgarh, is known as Rahul's Man Friday. However, after the result of the survey of the "Shakti" app came out, his name was all but ruled out as a chief minsiterial candidate. According to political analysts, Sahu’s candidature for the chief minister's post came up quite late.
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