Bhupesh Baghel, the man who wrested Chhattisgarh from BJP for Congress after being rocked by Naxal attack

Can the century-old party survive in the Naxal-infested state without the leadership of Baghel?
Last Updated 27 August 2021, 10:45 IST

Chhattisgarh Congress is witnessing a power tussle between Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and state Health Minister T S Singh Deo. Amid talks of a leadership change in the state, Baghel has said that Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have entrusted him with the responsibility of running the state government and will quit the moment they ask him to do so.

CM Baghel is likely to meet the Gandhis on Friday for the second time in three days as the party high command, after firefighting internal turmoil in Punjab, focussed its attention on resolving the serious crisis in another party-ruled state. While Baghel goes for a show of strength, a sulking Deo has dug the heels amid indications that the party high command is keen to see its commitment of rotational Chief Ministership being fulfilled.

While there has been no public announcement of the rotational Chief Ministership formulae, party insiders say such a promise was indeed made in 2018 when the AICC leadership was discussing making one of the three Chattisgarh leaders — Bhupesh Bhagel, T S Singh Deo and Tamradhwaj Sahu — as Chief Minister.

But the question that is doing the rounds in the political arena of the country: Can the century-old party survive in the Naxal-infested state without the leadership of Baghel? For it was he, who revived Congress in the state after a period of turmoil and chaos.

Like many others in the party, Baghel began his political journey as a member of the Indian Youth Congress and later became a member of the All India Congress Committee. In 1993, for the first time from Patan, he was elected to the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly. In November 2000, after the state of Chhattisgarh was formed, he became a member of the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly.

Baghel, who was the president of the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee from December 2013 to June 2019, is best known as the man behind the resurrection of the party in the state after the terrible 2013 Naxal attack in Darbha valley. On May 25, 2013, Naxalite insurgents of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) attacked a convoy of Congress leaders in Jhiram Ghati, Darbha Valley in the Sukma district of the state. The attack caused at least 27 deaths, including that of former state minister Mahendra Karma and Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel. Vidya Charan Shukla, a senior Congress leader, succumbed to injuries on June 11 that year.

The Congress, which was the Opposition party in the state at that point in time, was in a state of chaos. Since 2003, it had been witnessing the BJP wielding power in the state, and it had now lost its top leaders in a tragedy. But Baghel steadied the ship of the state party unit, sidelined the likes of Ajit Jogi, former chief minister of the state, and his son Amit Jogi, a move that slowly resulted in the party's comeback in the state. Baghel got his reward in the 2018 Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly elections, which Congress won by a huge majority, following which he became the chief minister of the state.

The coming days will decide the fate of the party leadership in the state. But Baghel, irrespective of the outcome, will be applauded for strengthening Congress at a time when the party was going through one of its most difficult phases in independent India, and at a place that still grabs headlines because of Naxal attacks.

(Published 27 August 2021, 09:36 IST)

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