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Chhattisgarh power tussle: Bhupesh Baghel CM for now, shows his strength

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Raipur: Amid Chhattisgarh Political turmoil, Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel on Friday evening met Rahul Gandhi and made it clear that he will continue as Chief Minister “for the time being”, and that a challenge from his minister TS Singh Deo has been handled. Whether Mr Singh Deo agrees will be known in the coming days.

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Notably, both Baghel and T S Singh Deo had agreed upon with the formula of rotational chief ministership in 2018, which is still “not a closed chapter”. After the meeting with Rahul Gandhi, it has been speculated that the party leadership is still keen on implementing the rotational chief minister formula and hopes that Baghel will honour it.

“He will continue as Chief Minister for the time being,” a senior leader told media when asked about the outcome of the meeting. On the rotational chief minister formula, the leader said “it is not a closed chapter.”

The Congress leadership, sources said, was miffed with the Chief Minister for bringing over 40 MLAs including ministers — one of them claimed they totalled 51 — to New Delhi to demonstrate his support despite a clear direction from the high command not to do so. The Congress has 70 MLAs in the 90-member Assembly. Baghel was told to send back the MLAs immediately, sources said. Neither Gandhi nor AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal met the MLAs.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, who joined Gandhi’s meeting with Baghel, left in between, possibly to consult Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and later returned. Venugopal and P L Punia, AICC in-charge of Chhattisgarh, were also present. While the meeting was on, MLAs supporting Baghel waited at the 24, Akbar Road headquarters of the AICC.

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Priyanka’s presence signalled the increasing role she is playing in Congress organisational matters. She played a key role in the appointment of Navjot Singh Sidhu as Punjab Congress president. She also had a role in placating Sachin Pilot when he raised the banner of revolt against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot last year.

On Friday, around 7.30 pm, Baghel and Punia emerged from the meeting. Baghel said he had discussed political, administrative and other issues with Gandhi. He said he had invited him to Chhattisgarh and the visit could possibly take place next week. “Very soon, possibly next week, Rahulji will visit Chhattisgarh,” he said.

Asked whether he will remain Chief Minister when Gandhi visits the state, Baghel said: “He is coming on my invitation… Maine mukhyamantri ke roop mein amantrit kiya hai (I have extended the invitation in my capacity as Chief Minister).”

To queries on the leadership change, he said: “I have explained all issues to my leader. We discussed political issues, schemes and programmes, and about the country. And in the end, I requested Rahulji to visit Chhattisgarh and he agreed.”

Asked about rotational chief ministership, Baghel said: “Some days ago when I came here last… Puniaji very clearly expressed his view on that… when the in-charge has said… what is left to say.” He went to the AICC headquarters to meet the MLAs and thereafter met Punia at the latter’s residence.

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State Health Minister T S Singh Deo, who is mounting pressure on the central leadership to implement the formula of rotational chief ministership which was agreed upon between Baghel and him in December 2018 when the party came to power in the state, is also in the Capital.

The MLAs, who arrived in batches and are staying at the Le Meridien hotel in Delhi, met Punia twice, urging him to arrange a meeting with Venugopal and the leadership. The show of strength by Baghel has clearly posed a challenge to the party high command which wanted an amicable settlement to the leadership tussle. Sources said several mayors too arrived in the Capital.

“We have come to place our views before the central leadership. We are disciplined workers of the party. Whatever decision the party takes, it will be acceptable to all of us. We are all soldiers of Rahul Gandhi,” Bhilai City MLA Devendra Yadav told The Indian Express. He said 51 MLAs are in Delhi to meet the central leadership.

Sources said signatures of the MLAs are being taken on a letter addressed to the Congress president. The content of the letter, sources said, is about the “achievements” and “good work” being carried out by the Chief Minister and the Baghel government. It would urge the high command to allow him to continue as the Chief Minister.

The MLAs were brought to Delhi despite a direction by the party high command not to do so. On Thursday night, state Congress president Mohan Markam had asked the MLAs not to travel to Delhi. “I had issued an appeal at 10 pm. But by then some MLAs had left. And some had already booked their tickets,” he said. He, however, said there was nothing wrong with party workers and leaders wanting to meet the leadership.

“If the leadership is thinking about taking a decision… We all want to be heard and involved in the process. Replacing Baghel as Chief Minister will not be appropriate. Everything is going on smoothly in the state. It will only vitiate the atmosphere. The situation is now favourable to the Congress. If you change the Chief Minister… achchi bhali sthithi bani hui hai wo kharab hogi (it will upset the good position we are in)… all the MLAs here are of the same view… that is why we are here,” an MLA who did not wish to be identified said.

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Meanwhile, state Food, Planning and Culture Minister Amarjeet Bhagat hit out at Singh Deo over his remark that every person playing in a team would like to be captain. “In any team, a captain is replaced only when the team is not performing well. Under the leadership of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Chhattisgarh state is witnessing all-round development. Bhupesh hai toh bharosa hai,” he posted

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