With more INC MLAs from Chhattisgarh joining their colleagues in New Delhi amid speculation of a leadership change in the state, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel today reiterated that there was no political movement and the MLAs were going to Delhi on their own volition as they were all independent individuals. Reacting to former Chief Minister Raman Singh’s statement that Chhattisgarh was going the Punjab way, Baghel said Chhattisgarh could never become Punjab.
It is speculated that Chhattisgarh Congress is split between two camps, one led by Bhupesh Baghel and the other by Health Minister TS Singhdeo, who demands a change of guard in the state. Yesterday, Singhdeo said, “The tussle is not as bad as is being portrayed. The high command will take the decision according to the current situation and no new situation has emerged.”
The INC leadership has appointed Baghel as a senior observer for the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2022 today amid turmoil in the party over the top job in his state.
Baghel, who had played a crucial role in the Assam assembly election, with his team carrying out extensive booth training of party workers, has in the past discussed the preparations for the elections in Uttar Pradesh with the INC general secretary who is in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra.
“The Congress president has appointed Shri Bhupesh Bhagel, chief minister, Chhattisgarh, as AICC senior observer for the ensuing elections in Uttar Pradesh, with immediate effect,” the INC said in a statement.
The development in Chhattisgarh comes at a time when the INC is facing a crisis originating from Punjab. Capt Amarinder Singh‘s exit from the post of chief minister owing to his disagreement with Navjot Singh Sidhu has got senior INC leaders speaking out against the style of functioning of the party.
Baghel said his party in Chhattisgarh and Punjab bore only one similarity — that of having numbers in their names.
“Punjab is land of panj (five) aab (water). It is made up of five rivers. Similarly, Chhattisgarh has derived its name from ‘chhattis‘ (36) ‘garh‘ (fort). No other states have numbers in their names. There is no other similarity between the two states,” he said.
Baghel completed half his tenure as the chief minister in June and now the supporters of Singhdeo are demanding a change in the guard in favour of Singhdeo though the INC never talked about rotational chief ministership when it came to power in the 2018 election.
As of now, about 30 Chhattisgarh MLAs are already in Delhi. Baghel has been downplaying the movement though the number of Chhattisgarh MLAs visiting Delhi together is quite surprising. “Tell me one thing, can legislators not go anywhere? Every step should not be seen as political. Anybody can go anywhere. Even you (journalists) tour with your friends and it doesn’t mean every time the purpose is getting news,” Baghel had said two days ago.
The INC high command had summoned both Baghel and Singhdeo to Delhi in August to resolve the feud and the leadership issue was solved for the time being.
Baghel faces revolt
As many as 35 Chhattisgarh Congress MLAs — most of them close to chief minister Bhupesh Baghel — have flocked to Delhi and more are expected to arrive in an apparent show of strength amid murmurs of leadership churn in the state.
The MLAs had started arriving in the national capital earlier this week as speculation over a possible leadership change gained momentum.
Brihaspat Singh, who is known to be close to Baghel and has been camping in Delhi, said that 35 MLAs are presently in Delhi and more are expected to arrive by tomorrow.
Responding to the decision, the MLAs in Delhi said the additional responsibility did not portend that Baghel would be removed as the Chhattisgarh chief minister. “Those who can work are given work. Baghel has done it in the past. There is no way he is leaving the post,” Brihaspat Singh said.
Echoing similar sentiments, MLA Prakash Naik said that Baghel had similarly been given Assam’s responsibility before, adding that he would continue to be chief minister of Chhattisgarh.
Baghel’s rivals in the party, the Singhdeo camp had claimed that the high command had in 2018 agreed to hand over the post to him after the government completed half its term.
While the visit of the MLAs is seen as a show of support for Baghel, the legislators say they are in Delhi to meet the leader in charge of Chhattisgarh Congress, PL Punia.
“We are here to meet the AICC leader in charge of Chhattisgarh PL Punia and waiting for him. We want to convey that Rahul Gandhi should extend the duration of his proposed tour to the state so that all MLAs can benefit from it,” Brihaspat Singh had said earlier. He had reiterated there was no question of a change at the top in the state and the Baghel-led government would complete its full term.
Chhattisgarh Health Minister Singhdeo, who is apparently seeking to replace Baghel, played down the visit and said it should not be made an issue.
About the possible leadership change, Singhdeo had reiterated that the decision is reserved with the party high command.