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Buzz over Chhattisgarh change of guard grows

Updated on Aug 27, 2021 04:37 AM IST

Singh Deo, who has remained in Delhi since the meetings on Tuesday, said, “If a person plays in a team, then doesn’t he think of becoming the captain?”

Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and state Congress incharge PL Punia leave party leader Rahul Gandhi's residence after a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. (ANI)
By, Raipur

Chhattisgarh health minister TS Singh Deo on Thursday said that anyone who plays in a team “thinks of being captain”, and chief minister Bhupesh Baghel is set to hold another set of meetings with the Congress leadership in Delhi on Friday, as signs of a possible change in guard in the state become stronger.

However, in a show of strength, at least 20 legislators backing Baghel also flew to the Capital late on Thursday night.

On Tuesday, Baghel and Singh Deo met senior Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, general secretary in charge of Chhattisgarh PL Punia and general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal to thrash out a solution to the impasse in the state, caused by a power sharing agreement put in place when the government was formed in December 2018.

Singh Deo, who has remained in Delhi since the meetings on Tuesday, said, “If a person plays in a team, then doesn’t he think of becoming the captain? Everyone thinks about that but the question is not about thoughts, it’s about capabilities. The high command takes a decision.”

The health minister stopped short of referring to any power-sharing deal, saying that the party has never “publicly” spoken about this. He added that there is rivalry even among siblings, and that he would “carry out the responsibility that is given by the “high command.” “He (Bhupesh Baghel) might be the CM for fifty years or ten years or two years. This is not fixed. Healthy competition takes place,” Singh Deo said.

Senior leaders close to Baghel said that the CM would hold another set of meetings with the party leadership on Friday, with “many things still not discussed.” “There is a separate meeting of the CM with Rahul Gandhi on Friday.,” a leader close to CM said on condition of anonymity.

The Baghel camp said that at least 20 MLAs and three ministers were travelling to Delhi to show their support of the sitting CM. “They are going on their own. They know that if the CM changes, the entire political hierarchy of the state will change,” said a functionary close to the chief minister who asked not to be named.

Bhilai MLA Devendra Yadav, one of the lawmakers who left Raipur on Thursday night, said, “In Chhattisgarh, we have been serving the people under the leadership of Bhupesh Baghel. We are going to speak to the Delhi high command on the situation in the state. We are all together.”

In December 2018, in the aftermath of a dominant Congress performance where they won 68 of 90 seats, even as the party’s Delhi leadership sought to put out leadership fires in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh emerged as a problem too.

Four state leaders, Baghel, current home minister Tamradhwaj Sahu, current speaker Charan Das Mahant and Singh Deo flew to Delhi, all eyeing the CM’s post. As Mahant settled for speaker, friction between Baghel and Singhdeo meant that Sahu first emerged the frontrunner, but pushed by the idea that a third leader would take the top position, Baghel and Singh Deo, along with Punia and Gandhi reportedly came to a power sharing arrangement.

Since Tuesday night, when Baghel was welcomed at Raipur airport with a show of strength, the CM has met with at least a dozen legislators and other functionaries close to him at the Raipur circuit house. At the airport, a combative Baghel said that it made him happy that a farmer like him had been given the responsibility of being CM and that “those propagating the two-and-a-half year formula were trying to bring political instability and would never succeed.”

Still, among some sections in the state, the sense is growing that a major change could be in the offing. One senior MLA, who spoke to HT said, “I got a hint from people close to CM that change of guard could happen in next few weeks.

Most however continued to hedge their bets, waiting for a “final decision” to arrive from Delhi, but urging that one be made quickly. “There is a total chaos because there is no communication from the party high command. We are afraid in taking sides in our party as a small mistake will ruin our political career,” said a legislator who asked not to be named.

Leaders close to Singh Deo said that they were staying in Delhi to avoid a situation of competing shows of strength in Raipur, and hoped for a quick declaration. “The stance from the beginning is that we have lived up to what we had promised, and have stayed calm and patient. This is what will continue, and there is no point going to Raipur to cause confrontation without clear directions,” one of them said. 

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