In Chhattisgarh, the Congress leadership impasse refuses to end
Confusion continues to prevail over the Chhattisgarh government as even the Congress high command hasn’t really resolved the long-pending issues between chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and his colleague and party heavyweight TS Singhdeo.
Almost a fortnight ago, Baghel seemed to have bought some time for himself when, on August 28, emerging from a long meeting with the high command in Delhi on suggestions that he should step down for Singhdeo as per a reported two-and-half-year power sharing agreement, the chief minister claimed that Rahul Gandhi would visit the state the next week to see all the work that had been done during his regime.
The next day, when Singhdeo returned, he said he too had spoken to the leadership too and they had kept a “decision safe”. Thus, for both the camps, Gandhi’s proposed visit to the state was a metaphor to the resolution of the crisis. More than two weeks later, Gandhi is yet to visit and clarity is yet to prevail.
On Wednesday, Baghel said on a TV interview that his office has sent to Delhi a three-day itinerary for Gandhi and is awaiting confirmation.
Functionaries close to Baghel say “things are on hold” but decisions of the central leadership will be followed. “If Rahul ji (Gandhi) is not deciding the dates, it means it is not an urgent matter for the party and high command,” a leader said.
Another leader close to Baghel said he was asked to continue in the meeting with the high command. Asked what Baghel would do if the party decided to remove him, the leader said, “It is clear that Baghel will not work under the chief ministership of Singhdeo.”
Meanwhile, people close to Singh Deo say they were lying low, but that the leader was “waiting” for a decision and was “confident”. “Singhdeo is clear about his politics. Certain things have been conveyed to him by the high command which he keeps close to his chest. He is waiting for the high command’s decision,” said a close aide.
This camp believes Baghel committed a “blunder” by orchestrating an ostensible show of strength in Delhi by asking MLAs to collect there. “He made a big mistake by seeming to challenge the high command. In Congress’s history, whoever has tried this has failed,” said a leader.
While there have been reports of some attempts at garnering support, one MLA said, “Everyone is waiting for the high command’s decision. I can guarantee that most of MLAs will accept whatever high command decides.”
The camps aside, confusion reigns supreme among the bureaucracy as well. A senior IAS officer in the state said, “Most bureaucrats are in confusion and fear. A group of civil servants who are close to the CM’s camp fear a change of guard, and others who are sidelined in this government are eagerly keeping an eye on every political development.”
Even in Bastar, police officers have been instructed verbally to maintain status quo. “Bastar Police have been asked not to plan big anti-Maoist operations and maintain status quo for next few months. There could be many factors but one reason could be that since there is a political turmoil, the government does not want to give any ammunition to the opposition on tribal front. The Silger incident has caused enough damage for the present government as some leaders who met Rahul Gandhi told him that Congress is losing ground in Bastar,” said a senior police officer.
The incident he was talking about was security forces opening fire on a protest on May 17, killing three people on the spot outside a newly established security camp in Sukma. Another villager who was injured in the firing died a few days later. Police claimed that Maoists were using the villagers as a shield.
In the wake of the December 2018 assembly elections, where the Congress won 68 of 90 seats, Baghel and Singhdeo reportedly arrived at a power-sharing arrangement wherein they were to head the government for half the term each.
Political observers believe that the CM is not willing to step down and hence it will be difficult for Congress to take any decision in near future. “Any politician would not want to step down after becoming the chief minister...look at Rajasthan and Punjab, other Congress-ruled states...It is only natural that the Chhattisgarh CM is not willing to step down even if a power-sharing formula was decided ,” said Sudeip Shrivastva, a political commentator based in Chhattisgarh.