Baghel: a street-fighter who took on BJP regime

Baghel: a street-fighter who took on BJP regime

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel being administered the oath of office by Governor Anandiben Patel during a swearing-in ceremony, in Raipur, on December 17, 2018. PTI

The third chief minister of the 18-year-old Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, is keen to provide a healing touch to the state’s festering wound, Maoists.

The farmer-politician views the red militancy in a socio-economic and political context. Unlike his BJP predecessor Dr Raman Singh, Baghel wants to extend an olive branch to Maoists rather than rejoice “count of the dead” as he put it in an interview after being chosen the chief minister. 

Ironically, the 57-year-old OBC leader owes his rise in politics to Maoist violence. In May 2013, Maoists had virtually wiped out top state Congress leadership in a gruesome attack in the Jhiram valley of Bastar region which claimed 29 lives including that of former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla.

The tragedy left the Chhattisgarh Congress devastated and leaderless. The only leader of stature left in the state was former chief minister Ajit Jogi. He lost credibility and respect following the Congress’s close defeat in the 2013 Assembly election. The party high command suspected that but for Jogi’s machinations to marginalise colleagues, the Congress could have won the election.

Jogi, whose breakaway Congress outfit Chhattisgarh Janata Congress aligned with the BSP to thwart his parent party’s ascendance in this election, was viewed with suspicion in the wake of the Jhiram valley attack.

The new chief minister has announced to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the 2013 massacre.

Baghel, who had been a minister in the Digvijaya government in undivided Madhya Pradesh, was considered a second rung leader then. But the Congress shunned Jogi and reposed faith in 53-year-old Baghel. He was appointed state president in October 2014.  

Since then, he has marched on — literally as well as figuratively. During the campaign for the just-concluded Assembly election, Baghel walked over 10,000 km. Under his leadership, the state Congress concentrated more on interaction with voters, particularly poor farmers than rallies. The strategy paid a rich divided. The Congress won 68 out of 90 seats, reducing the main opponent BJP to 17. The Ajit Jogi-Mayawati combine could win only six seats.

From focusing on 'padyatras' for building a mass connect to reviving the morale of party workers, Baghel has been credited for reversing the fortunes of Congress in Chhattisgarh. He is a street-fighter, who took the BJP regime head-on in the run-up to the election.

Baghel, a patron of Chhattisgarh Manva Kumri Chhatriya Samaj since 1993, represents the Kurmi community that has a large representation in the state.

In the first Assembly elections of Chhattisgarh in 2003, the Congress was defeated but Baghel had retained his seat. In 2008, he lost the election but returned to the Assembly in 2013. He was the deputy leader of opposition in Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly from 2003 to 2008.