'Congress-mukt Bharat' not going to happen: Baghel

Tuesday Interview | 'Congress-mukt Bharat' not going to happen, says Bhupesh Baghel

Congress has now drafted Baghel, a man with an eye for detail, to assist Priyanka Gandhi in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is credited with steering Congress to power in Chhattisgarh after its top-rung leaders were killed by Naxals in 2013. Under his leadership, Congress overthrew the BJP, which was in power for 15 years. Congress has now drafted Baghel, a man with an eye for detail, to assist Priyanka Gandhi in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The OBC strongman, who appears to have thwarted an attempt by a party colleague to unseat him, knows the pulse of the voter, and the Congress hopes to cash it. Baghel spoke to DH’s Shemin Joy.

You have been made senior party observer for UP polls, where Congress is fighting under Priyanka Gandhi’s leadership. How do you see the party’s situation in UP?

After Priyanka Gandhi was appointed the party’s general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, Congress’ strength has improved. Party workers are very enthusiastic. She has made an impact on the cadre. She is hands-on and catches the bull by its horns. Till the time Priyanka was appointed, the party was not very active and the leaders restricted themselves to issuing statements. However, with her entry, the situation has changed. She has been on the ground and fighting for those who are denied justice. She went to Sonbhadra when 10 people were killed in July and were detained. How she was stopped while on the way to Hathras was seen by everybody. After the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, she was detained for four days. She is leading us from the front and has prepared a roadmap for us. Thanks to her, people are more receptive to Congress.

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What are the plans to change the perception that the party is not a major player in UP?

Across the state, we are conducting training programmes for party leaders and workers. These programmes are conducted at panchayat and district levels, among others. Through these programmes, we have attracted a large number of people and cadre. Earlier, people used to say that Congress does not have workers on the ground. After Priyanka’s appointment, the party has managed to set up committees from the panchayat level up. The work is on.

How do you rate the Yogi Adityanath government’s performance? What will be Congress’ campaign plank?

Promises were made by the BJP in the 2017 Assembly elections but nothing has been delivered. They promised to double the income of farmers but nothing happened. Instead, the farmers are protesting and have even been mowed down, allegedly by a BJP Union minister’s son. Some action was taken only after Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi put pressure. The farmers in the state are not getting justice. The employment scene in UP is pathetic. Unemployment is high. The government has also failed to contain price rises. We will raise all those issues that have an impact on people’s lives and that the Adityanath government has failed to address.

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There is an impression among people that Congress is in a big crisis, that it cannot win elections or counter the BJP effectively. Even some Opposition parties and your allies share this view…

When a party is out of power, people make such comments. It’s natural. It’s nothing new. Almost all parties have faced this. But you will have to agree with me that Congress has been at the forefront of people’s struggles when it is out of power.

We used to hear the slogan ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’, but that is not going to happen. You saw that we won Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, etc. In Maharashtra and Jharkhand, we are allies in the government. In the last Assembly elections in Gujarat, Congress almost won the state. The BJP just scraped through in Gujarat. Now, will you say that we will have Congress-mukt Bharat?

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It is not just the BJP, but Congress’ own allies and other Opposition parties do not shy away from targeting it. The Trinamool Congress directed its attack on Rahul Gandhi after your response to election strategist Prashant Kishor’s tweet targeting the Congress.

A statement has already been made and there is no need to add to it. A serious effort should be made as far as alliance and leadership are concerned and it cannot be decided superficially.

Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is questioned by a section of people. What is your view?

Rahul Gandhi is our unquestionable leader. He is raising issues of the people with vigour. He has put the Narendra Modi government on its toes. The whole country has faith in him.

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In Chhattisgarh, we have recently seen one of the senior leaders, T S Singh Deo, raising the demand for change in chief ministership. He has spoken about rotational chief ministership. The issue was discussed with Rahul Gandhi. Is the leadership question in Chhattisgarh settled?

The Congress in charge of Chhattisgarh, P L Punia, has already made a statement on this. He has made a very clear statement. I don’t think there is any need for me to add to that.

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