Interview | India

We didn’t go to him, he came to us: Bhupesh Baghel on Prashant Kishor snub 

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. File

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel. File | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel shares his thoughts on his upcoming tour of the State, the emphasis on Lord Ram-centric tourism, the Prashant Kishor fiasco and the Congress getting elbowed out from the position of lead Opposition party.

From May 4, you are going to tour all 90 Assembly segments in the State. As per the published programme, you will be visiting three villages in each constituency and the programme also includes a night halt. The next Assembly elections are some 17 months away, but is this the beginning of the Congress campaign?

I wouldn’t see it as a political campaign, elections are still far away. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one was not able to travel around so much. As a Chief Minister, it is important for me to get feedback from the public on our government’s welfare policies, assess its implementation and figure out the gaps, if any. Also when the Chief Minister of the State hits the road, the administration and the governance straightens up and becomes vigilant. This is my effort to meet all stakeholders, social workers, beneficiaries and district-level administrators.

You recently announced developing the Ram Van Gaman Path – the path that Lord Ram, as per mythological accounts, took after he was cast out from Ayodhya. You are being accused of peddling soft Hindutva. Your comments?

How is this soft Hindutva? This is part of Chhattisgarh’s culture. We are the only State in the country to have a temple dedicated to Lord Ram’s mother Kaushalaya, some 25 km away from Raipur, in Chand Khuri. Chhattisgarh is believed to be her parents’ home. The effort in developing this circuit is to inform and acquaint the country and the world about the rich history and traditions of our State.

But, with this, aren’t you trying to compete with the BJP’s Ram Mandir narrative?

Why do we need to compete with that? Hinduism is not any one party’s monopoly. Why should Chhattisgarh be only known for its jungles, mines and minerals? There is so much more to us and we are only putting that out on India’s map.

In recent weeks, the Congress has been in the news in connection with Prashant Kishor. Isn’t Mr. Kishor’s decision not to join the party after days of a very public parley an insult to the Congress?

He came to us, we didn’t go to him. Mr. Kishor wanted to show us a presentation, which we all saw. And I believe he decided to knock at our doors because the country needs the Congress today. We heard out his suggestions. It is up to him to decide to join the party or not and it is up to the party to consider his recommendations or not. There is nothing more to it.

After the last round of Assembly elections, in which the Congress lost out to the AAP in Punjab, its position as the lead Opposition party has become precarious. Isn’t the party losing the plot?

In Punjab, even during the 2017 Assembly elections, there was mahaul [atmosphere] in favour of the AAP. But, obviously, they couldn’t convert it into a victory. This time, they did. Neither the AAP nor the TMC, which returned to power in West Bengal, can replace the Congress as the primary Opposition force in the country.

Regional parties have been around for many decades. Look at Tamil Nadu, when was the last time a national party formed the government there? Or the Biju Janata Dal, which has won the Assembly elections five consecutive times. Or the JD(U), despite the fact that Nitish Kumar is the longest-serving Chief Minister of the State, has he managed to win any other State? Were any of these parties able to expand beyond the confines of their States? The Congress, on the other hand, has a pan-India presence.

But the AAP has been trying to put down its roots in Chhattisgarh too?

They made a bid in the last elections too; they are welcome to try again.

The speculation about a change of guard in Chhattisgarh is refusing to die. The Chief Minister’s Chair was to be rotated between you and T.S. Singh Deo midway through the tenure. Your comments?

What speculation? This question is irrelevant. Let’s say there was such a formula, then why has it not been implemented so far? I completed 2.5 years in the Chief Minister’s chair almost a year back.

But there is similar speculation about Rajasthan too and the indications are that the leadership is considering a change in both places?

The situation in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh is not the same. In our State, there is no such issue.

The Congress ran a high-voltage campaign in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and you were a key part of it. What went wrong?

The answer is polarisation. The voters got divided into two packs, those who did not want the BJP went to the Samajwadi Party, and those who wanted the BJP’s return voted for Yogi Adityanath. Look at the fate of the BSP. They have been a big political force in the State but what were they reduced down to? They could win only a single seat. As far as the Congress is concerned, the voters told us that they will consider in 2024. Only the Congress can fight and stand against the BJP. We shall fight to win the next electoral battle on our hands.

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2022 7:18:43 am |