Bhupesh Baghel meets Rahul; indicates he will remain CM

Bhupesh Baghel meets Rahul Gandhi; indicates he will remain Chhattisgarh CM

Baghel indicated that his position is safe after the over three-hour-long meeting

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel (L) and TS Singh Deo. Credit: Facebook/tssinghdeosurguja

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Bhagel on Friday met top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for the second time in four days, as his rivals mounted pressure on him to honour a contested agreement on rotating chief ministership and give way to Health Minister T S Singh Deo halfway through his tenure in the government.

Baghel indicated that his position is safe after the over three-hour-long meeting with Rahul as 55 MLAs supporting him too reached the national capital in a show of strength, saying he has invited the former Congress chief to the state as Chief Minister.

The 60-year-old leader flew down to the national capital in the afternoon for the meeting with Rahul, even as MLAs supporting him held at least two meetings with Congress' Chhattisgarh in-charge P L Punia since last night.

Also Read — Will there be a change of guard in Chhattisgarh? Congress firefights power tussle between Baghel, Deo

The MLAs also sought a meeting with Rahul and Congress General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal during the day as well and landed at the AICC headquarters in the evening.

"I told him everything. There were discussions on political as well administrative issues. I requested him to visit Chhattisgarh. He gladly accepted the invitation and he will be there next week,"  Baghel told reporters after the meeting.

Asked whether there would remain the Chief Minister and about the rotation of Chief Ministers as demanded by Deo, he said Punia has already clarified the matter and there was no need to clarify it again. Punia had earlier said that there was no decision on rotating the post of Chief Minister when Congress won the polls in 2018.

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

To repeated questions about his fate, Baghel said he has invited Rahul to Chhattisgarh as the Chief Minister of the state.

Rahul was closeted with Baghel, an influential OBC leader in the state who pipped Deo in 2018 to the post of Chief Minister, for more than three hours. Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi, who is said to be backing Baghel, was also present for most part of the meeting.

Altogether 55 of the 70 Congress MLAs said to be supporting Baghel have reached the capital -- 26 of them reached on Thursday night in a chartered plane while the rest came later.

Sources said the group of MLAs that came on Thursday night drove straight to Punia's residence in the capital and argued that Baghel should not be removed. On Friday, all 55 MLAs again met Punia.

Also Read — CM Bhupesh Baghel should clarify who is trying to destabilise Chhattisgarh government: BJP

Elaborating on the demand, Chhattisgarh Minister Amarjeet Bhagat said, "only when the team is not doing well, it is required to change the captain of the team. Baghel is doing very well in the state."

On Tuesday, Rahul had separate meetings with Baghel and Deo while both held discussions with Venugopal the next day. While Deo did not return to Raipur, Baghel returned to the capital for the Friday meeting. Deo said that he was not called for any meeting on Friday.

Baghel's camp believes that Congress central leadership will not be able to ignore the support the Chief Minister enjoys in the party. The party will also have to take into account that Baghel is an OBC leader and replacing him with an upper-caste leader could have an impact in the future.

On his part, Deo wants the central leadership to honour the agreement the leaders arrived at in 2018 to rotate the chief ministership after two-and-half years. Besides Baghel and Deo, Tamradhwaj Sahu and Charandas Mahant were also contenders for the top post.

In Raipur, Jannayak Janata Congress leader Amit Jogi, son of late Ajit Jogi, also said that he was willing to return to Congress. Earlier, Baghel had stalled his return to the party. 

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