Chhattisgarh Congress impasse | Bhupesh Baghel hangs on, but no clarity after talks with Rahul, Priyanka

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and Congress’s State in-charge P.L. Punia come out after meeting Rahul Gandhi, in New Delhi on August 27, 2021.   | Photo Credit: PTI

No clear announcement on the leadership question in Chhattisgarh was forthcoming at the end of a nearly four-hour discussion Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Friday, but the Baghel camp appears confident that he has survived for now.

Congress general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal and the party’s State in-charge, P.L. Punia, were present at the meeting.

Mr.Baghel told the reporters at the end of the meeting that on his invitation, Mr. Gandhi had agreed to visit Chhattisgarh to see the progress made by his government on various fronts.

Rotating term

He ducked questions on the reported assurance Mr. Gandhi had given to State Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo that the Chief Minister’s term will be shared between Mr. Baghel and him. The incumbent claimed that this issue was clarified three days ago by Mr. Punia after meeting Mr. Gandhi on Tuesday.

“Our State in-charge P.L. Punia has already amply clarified the position on this issue. Once he has spoken, what else can I say,” Mr. Baghel said.

Mr. Punia had said a change of leadership in the State was not discussed. But the statement did little to end speculation.

Mr.Baghel said that during the meeting, political and administrative issues of the State were discussed.

“At the end of the meeting, I requested Mr. Gandhi to visit the State to see our work and he gladly accepted the invitation. He will be coming next week,” Mr. Baghel said. Asked if he would continue as the Chief Minister, Mr. Baghel said he had invited Mr. Gandhi in his position as the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.

The imperative of realpolitik is weighing in favour of Mr. Baghel who, sources said, has managed to impress upon the Gandhi siblings that continuing with him is key to the party’s survival in the State. Sources said Ms. Vadra could not attend Tuesday’s meeting as she was not in Delhi, and Mr. Baghel was asked to return to the capital for another round in her presence.

While Mr. Gandhi is bound by his reported promise to Mr. Deo, Ms. Vadra, senior leaders say, wants Mr. Baghel to continue.

As Mr. Baghel is the party’s leading face of the Other Backward Classes community, she feels a change in leadership just ahead of the election in Uttar Pradesh, where each party is pursuing the backward vote, will send the wrong message. Within the State too, where OBCs make up the biggest group, the BJP is looking for a credible backward face ahead of the 2023 election.

In a show of strength 55 of 70 Congress legislators who support Mr. Baghel flew down to Delhi. After spending the entire day lobbying for Mr. Baghel, the supporting MLAs moved to the party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road. They were seen congratulating at the conclusion of Mr. Baghel meeting with the Gandhi siblings. Sources said that Mr. Baghel has unequivocally conveyed to his supporters that he has survived for now. The entire contingent of 55 MLAs and Mr. Baghel return to Raipur in a chartered flight on Saturday afternoon.

On Thursday night, 26 MLAs supporting him arrived in a chartered airplane to the capital.

“We went directly to Mr Punia’s home at around 11 p.m. He had already slept, we woke him up and told him that the decision on who should be the Chief Minister should be left to us since it is we who have to face elections and not any leader sitting in Delhi,” one of the legislators said.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 6:33:28 AM |

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