Chhattisgarh 2018

Chhattisgarh CM choice: Problem of plenty for Congress

Bhupesh Baghel  

The Congress’s resounding win in Chhattisgarh now poses a new problem for the party.

Returning to power in the State after a gap of 15 years, the Congress has at least three Chief Ministerial candidates: State party chief Bhupesh Baghel, Leader of the Opposition in the dissolved Assembly T.S. Singh Deo and the lone MP from the State Tamradhwaj Sahu.

While each contender has a strong claim, party officials said the final outcome would be crucial in helping lay the groundwork for the party in the State in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Invoking the Congress “parampara” or tradition, State in-charge P.L. Punia said at a press conference that the elected representatives would pick their leader. He stressed it was the “collective leadership” that had led the party to victory.

Mr. Baghel is credited with having run an aggressive campaign and bringing a divided house into order.

He is recognised for his role in pushing the Ajit Jogi faction out of the Congress and helping put an end to intra- party intrigue. However, a quarrel that he picked with Mr. Punia in the run-up to election, may work against him. Various sleaze CDs implicating few Congress leaders surfaced during the run up to election and many fingers were pointed at Mr Baghel for it. Party sources said while he cannot be counted among the favourites of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, he commands sizeable support among the rank-and-file members.

Considered the brain behind the Congress manifesto that many claim was a key reason for the party’s victory, Mr. Singh Deo was instrumental in mobilising campaign funds and resources. His close ties with Mr. Gandhi are also seen as a big plus.

“This is not a singles match where one person can take credit for the victory,” Mr. Deo told The Hindu. “We all worked for it. The decision has to be taken by us collectively now.”

But what may work against him, is his royal lineage. The party already has an ex-royal, Captain Amarinder Singh, as its CM in Punjab and may not want a line of royals in different States, party officials said.

The dark horse could be Mr. Sahu, 68. He is from the State’s dominant OBC caste, Sahu, and his selection could help the party build a pro-backward image ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. Coming from a farming family, he rose through the ranks, getting elected as a panch in rural Durg at the age of 25 and then gradually working his way up from block president to district president and further up the party’s hierarchy. A three-time MLA and a former minister in the State, he also has administrative experience. Named as head of the OBC cell of the All India Congress Committee earlier this year, in March he was elevated to the Congress Working Committee. “I have no personal ambition,” Mr. Sahu told The Hindu. “I will follow whatever directions I get from the party.”

The Durg MP contested this election from the Durg rural assembly constituency.

“Our decision on Chief Minister will be based on which candidate can bring us the best political and social capital for the Lok Sabha 2019 elections,” a senior Congress functionary explained, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 5:25:32 PM |

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