Congress will fight opponents with its ideology, says state party chief Bhupesh Baghel

Bhupesh Baghel heads the Congress in Chhattisgarh, which is due to go to the polls this year. He is the party’s key OBC face in the state, where the community accounts for 47 percent of the population

chhattisgarh elections 2018 Updated: Jul 17, 2018 19:14 IST
Ritesh Mishra
Ritesh Mishra
Hindustan Times, Raipur
Congress,Bhupesh Baghel,Chhattisgarh elections
A Congress party worker waves the party flag during a function in New Delhi.(AP File Photo)

Bhupesh Baghel heads the Congress in Chhattisgarh, which is due to go to the polls this year. He is the party’s key OBC face in the state, where the community accounts for 47% of the population. The party has been counting on him to galvanise the Congress workers ahead of the polls. Baghel spoke to Ritesh Mishra about the challenges ahead. Edited excerpts

Do you think the contest is tough especially since the BJP has a strong cadre base, access to resources and a CM face who has ruled for 15 years?

…the BJP cadre has been hit by the luxury that comes along with political power. It has become a comfort-seeking cadre. Those who used to travel by cycles now own SUVs… The BJP workers do not do ground-level work… either the government machinery (does it) or (it is done through) contractual arrangements. They have access to resources. We shall fight our opponents by our ideology that we have inculcated in our cadre at every level. That Congress ideology driven cadre shall fight collectively against (chief minister) Raman Singh, (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and (BJP chief) Amit Shah. We shall counter the BJP’s plenitude material resources with the combination of our cadre and public participation.

What shall be the Congress’s model of governance?

…(the) BJP government will collapse under the weight of its wrongdoings. We are very clear about what shall be our strategy once we are able to regain power… 75-80 percent of Chhattisgarh population lives in villages. Our focus will be on rural development… We shall link rivulets to fields and optimally use the animal livestock. We shall provide affordable gobar gas as fuel. We will focus on milk production and agro-based industries, which shall also generate employment. By increasing the production of bio-manure we shall decrease the input costs of farmers. Chhattisgarh provides electricity at higher rates than Odisha, Jharkhand and other agricultural states. We shall reduce it to affordable levels not only for farmers but also for household consumers. We shall increase the avenues of utilization of metal ores…

Do you think the Congress is in a position to contest alone?

The Congress has never been weak in Chhattisgarh. It has become stronger under (Congress chief) Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. We have shared ideas with some regional outfits and social organisations solely for the common causes such as violation of the Forest Rights Act. Other than that, if any beneficial arrangement with national parties would be possible, we shall look into that possibility positively.

Do you think the presence of parties like CPI, CPM, BSP, GGP, AAP will dent your chances?

…the total vote percentage of BJP and Congress amounts to 81 percent. This leaves 19 percent of votes that may be termed as hanging votes. We shall try to secure as many votes as are possible from this share… if CPI and CPM do not field their candidates especially in Bastar region we shall benefit from such a decision.

What is your party doing for fighting casteism especially in reference to the ticket distribution?

We have evolved a system under which the workers at the district, block and village level shall meet and suggest names that shall be ultimately approved by the high command. The caste of a person shall be immaterial for the purpose of allotment of tickets.

What have been the reasons for the Congress’s defeats in Chhattisgarh?

(Former chief minister) Ajit Jogi’s oppressive leadership and the environment of terror he and his son created led to our defeats in successive elections since 2003. In 2003, a question mark over his tribal identity was a big factor, especially in rural and tribal areas. In urban areas, his son’s haughty ways that created fear in the public resulted in the Congress’s defeat. In 2008 and 2013, his policy of “if not me then no one else” severely dented the Congress’s chances… that is not the situation today. Now, Congress has a collective leadership and we shall form the government.

First Published: Jul 17, 2018 07:19 IST