Rahul Gandhi walks a tightrope in Chhattisgarh, CM choice between TS Singh Deo, Bhupesh Baghel harder than expected

Confusing signals are emerging from Chhattisgarh for the post of chief minister. The Congress has not come up with a clear choice yet, even after the referendum party chief Rahul Gandhi had sought on Wednesday through an app called 'Shakti'. A unique experiment of sorts, more than three lakh party workers, including elected Congress candidates, received a pre-recorded call from Rahul seeking their choice for a chief ministerial candidate for Chhattisgarh.

After hectic parleys at Hotel Babylon in state capital Raipur on Wednesday, two names emerged on the basis of the referendum through 'Shakti' and a meeting of the Congress Legislative Party in the presence of central observer and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge. According to party sources, between former Leader of Opposition in the Chhattisgarh Assembly TS Singh Deo and Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel, the former is the front-runner for the chief minister's post at present. However, the party hasn't announced the name and is waiting for Rahul to take the final call.

"At our end, we conveyed our decision regarding the chief ministerial candidate. Unlike Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, we don't have a national-level leader for the post, so there's no debate over selection. Now the final decision will be made in Delhi by the party president," a Chhattisgarh Congress party source told Firstpost.

 Rahul Gandhi walks a tightrope in Chhattisgarh, CM choice between TS Singh Deo, Bhupesh Baghel harder than expected

File photo of Congress leader TS Singh Deo.

Similar to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the supporters of the two contenders for the office of the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh have now got into clashes over the issue of "Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri" (who will be the chief minister).

Outside Baghel's house in Raipur, the Chhattisgarh Congress chief's supporters got into a brawl with Deo's backers on Thursday. Even in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal, supporters of Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia gathered at Indira Bhawan — the Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters — with large cut-outs and posters, shouting slogans in Scindia's favour and demanding his appointment as the chief minister.

Chhattisgarh is the only state among the three that the Congress won where Rahul used the 'Shakti' app to know party workers' choice of chief minister. Project Shakti is an internal digital platform of the party that aims to link all Congress workers countrywide with party president.

So finally, who is likely to be the Chhattisgarh chief minister? Let's look at the choices.

Tribhuvaneshwar Saran Singh Deo, popularly known as "TS Baba" across the state, is the Leader of Opposition in the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly, representing the Ambikapur constituency. A scion of the famous Surguja princely state and son of former chief secretary of undivided Madhya Pradesh MS Singh Deo, the 66-year-old exercises strong influence and popularity in Surguja, which attests to the fact that of the eight Assembly seats in the district, the Congress had won seven in the last election.

Pros: TS Singh Deo is suave and articulate. According to sources, most Chhattisgarh Congress party workers favoured his candidature over Baghel's in both the Shakti referendum and at the Congress Legislative Party meeting. Deo was also the brain behind the Chhattisgarh Congress manifesto, which was considered unique among the five manifestos the party released ahead of the Assembly elections.

"During the making of this manifesto, TS Singh Deo extended his reach to beyond Congress workers. He met every section of the society across the state, discussed issues with them, took their feedback and incorporated them in the manifesto. This exercise helped him get connected with as many voters as possible in Chhattisgarh and made him popular simultaneously. This manifesto, which has been hailed as a unique experiment by Rahul Gandhi, proved to be a game-changer in this election," political commentator Parivesh Mishra told Firstpost.

Con: His business ties with a big business house can prove to be a handicap, as some party workers pointed out. "There can be conflict of interest with our party line," an elected member said on condition of anonymity.

Bhupesh Baghel, an MLA from Patan, was the deputy Leader of Opposition in the Chhattisgarh Assembly. A backward-class leader (Kurmi), the 57-year-old has served as minister in both Digvijaya Singh and Ajit Jogi's cabinets in undivided Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Active in social reform works, Baghel toured Chhattisgarh on foot before the elections and tried to revive the Congress at the organisational level.

File photo of Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel. PTI

File photo of Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel. PTI

Pros: Baghel virtually revived the party and gave shape to a new Congress after becoming Pradesh Congress Committee chief five years ago. He has strong organisational skills and is a more grassroots party worker in comparison. He actively campaigned across Chhattisgarh this election.

Con: According to insiders, Baghel's leadership style is not acceptable to many workers in the faction-ridden party in the state. His name had emerged in the alleged case of sleaze CDs involving a senior minister in the Raman Singh government ahead of the election. A special CBI court had sent him to 14-day judicial custody in the case.

Two other leaders, Tamradhwaj Sahu and Charandas Mahant, who were earlier in the fray for the Chhattisgarh chief minister's chair, are now apparently out of the race.

A 66-year-old Lok Sabha MP from Durg and a leader of the Sahu community, which has a sizeable presence in Chhattisgarh among Other Backward Classes, Sahu is now a fence-sitter. "In case the Congress top leadership disagrees on Deo and Baghel, Sahu may become the chief minister. But the chances are bleak," a party leader said.

While finalising the candidate for the Chhattisgarh chief minister's post, the party leadership also has to consider who can play a pivotal role in maximising the party's tally in Chhattisgarh and mobilise resources in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. Besides, the party also has to fulfil the promises it made to voters in the state ahead of the polls.

Although it was initially believed that selecting the Chhattisgarh chief minister would be a comparatively easy task for the Congress, unlike in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, it seems that it's going to be another tightrope walk for Rahul.

Updated Date: Dec 13, 2018 20:17:44 IST