As of now, the INC has decided Bhupesh Baghel will continue as the chief minister of Chhattisgarh. It is still possible TS Singh Deo will replace him. There was a formula of rotational chief ministership the two had agreed upon in 2018. A party leader said that was “not a closed chapter” after Baghel had a meeting with former INC head Rahul Gandhi that lasted more than three hours.
Sources said the INC high command did not take to the chief minister’s act of bringing about 40-50 MLAs, including ministers to New Delhi to demonstrate his support despite a clear direction from the party leadership not to do so. The INC has 70 MLAs in the 90-member Chhattisgarh assembly.
The high command asked Baghel to send the MLAs back immediately, sources said. Neither Gandhi nor AICC general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal met the MLAs.
Gandhi, the chief minister says, will visit Chhattisgarh next week even as the party leadership is not dropping the idea of the ‘formula’. It hopes that Baghel will honour it. “He will continue as chief minister for the time being,” a senior leader said.
The politician added, “It is not a closed chapter.”
Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, who joined her brother’s meeting with Baghel, left in between, possibly to consult INC interim president Sonia Gandhi, and returned subsequently. Venugopal and AICC in charge of Chhattisgarh PL Punia were present at the meeting.
As Rahul and Priyanka met, MLAs supporting Baghel waited at the 24 Akbar Road headquarters of the AICC.
This was the third occasion after her participation in the decision to make Navjot Singh Sidhu the Punjab Congress president that Priyanka is intervening in matters of the organisation. She had earlier played a role in pacifying Sachin Pilot when he had rebelled against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in 2020.
On 27 August at around 7:30 PM, Baghel and Punia emerged from the meeting. Baghel said he had discussed political, administrative and other issues with Gandhi. He said he had invited him to Chhattisgarh and the visit could in all likelihood take place next week. “Very soon, possibly next week, Rahul ji will visit Chhattisgarh,” he said.
Asked whether he will remain chief minister when Gandhi visits the state, Baghel said: “He is coming on my invitation… I have extended the invitation in my capacity as chief minister.”
When asked about the leadership change, he said: “I have explained all issues to my leader. We discussed political issues, schemes and programmes, and about the country. And in the end, I requested Rahulji to visit Chhattisgarh and he agreed.”
On rotational chief ministership, Baghel said: “Some days ago when I came here last… Puniaji very clearly expressed his view on that… when the in-charge has said… what is left to say.”
Baghel went to the AICC headquarters to meet the MLAs and thereafter met Punia at the house of the latter.
Chhattisgarh Health Minister Singh Deo is in Delhi too. He is pressuring the high command to implement the formula of rotational chief ministership which was agreed upon between Baghel and him in December 2018 when the party came to power in the state.
Earlier, the MLAs had arrived in small groups and booked rooms at the Le Meridien hotel in Delhi. They met Punia twice, urging him to arrange a meeting with Venugopal and the leadership. The show of strength by Baghel has shaken the party high command that wanted an amicable settlement to the leadership tussle. Sources said several mayors arrived in Delhi too.
“We have come to place our views before the central leadership. We are disciplined workers of the party. Whatever decision the party takes, it will be acceptable to all of us. We are all soldiers of Rahul Gandhi,” Bhilai City MLA Devendra Yadav said. He said 51 MLAs were in Delhi to meet the central leadership.
Sources said the party was collecting the MLAs’ signatures on a letter addressed to Sonia Gandhi. They said the letter boasted of the “achievements” and “good work” of the Baghel government, pleading with her to allow the incumbent to continue as the chief minister.
Baghel had brought the MLAs to Delhi, overlooking a direction by the INC high command not to do so. Two nights ago, Chhattisgarh Congress president Mohan Markam had asked the MLAs not to travel to Delhi. “I had issued an appeal at 10 pm. But by then some MLAs had left. And some had already booked their tickets,” he said. Markam said, however, that there was nothing wrong with party workers and leaders wanting to meet the leadership.
“If the leadership is thinking about making a decision… We all want to be heard and involved in the process. Replacing Baghel as Chief Minister will not be appropriate. Everything is going on smoothly in the state. It will only vitiate the atmosphere. The situation is now favourable to the INC. If you change the chief minister, it will upset the good position we are in… all the MLAs here are of the same view… that is why we are here,” an MLA, who did not wish to be identified, said.
Meanwhile, Food, Planning and Culture Minister of Chhattisgarh Amarjeet Bhagat slammed Singh Deo for a remark by the latter that every person playing in a team would like to be captain. “In any team, a captain is replaced only when the team is not performing well. Under the leadership of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Chhattisgarh state is witnessing development in all fields. Bhupesh hai toh bharosa hai,” he tweeted.