If the corruption issue doesn’t claim Mr Baghel, the Congress’s chances in the assembly election later this year are good, observes Aditi Phadnis.
After the Centre’s lightning strikes on the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, is Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel next in line?
The Enforcement Directorate is trying to link the coal levy extortion — where an e-Transportation Permit (TP) to transport coal from the mine to the user was replaced by a manual Non-Objection Certificate (NoC) at the behest of a cartel run by one Suryakant Tiwari and some bureaucrats — with alleged pay-offs to many senior politicians.
Whether the ED will be able to finish its investigation and create a chargesheet linking the extortionists with the Congress’s political leadership ahead of the assembly elections due in the second half of 2023 remains to be seen.
As of now, challenges to the Congress government are few.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has been comatose for the most part after the 2018 assembly elections, in which it could win only 15 of the 90 seats in the assembly.
Former chief minister Raman Singh has been drafted into party work as national vice-president though he was unable to save his own backyard in the last assembly elections.
A few months ago, the BJP appointed three-time MLA Narayan Chandel Leader of the Opposition, replacing Dharamlal Kaushik.
Mr Chandel, the MLA from Janjgir-Champa and former deputy speaker of the assembly, is from the same caste — Kurmi — as Mr Baghel.
The BJP has exerted every nerve and sinew, but during the Baghel government’s tenure, it is the Congress that has won all five bypolls to the assembly and local body elections.
In the last five years, the party also won all the Zilla Parishad, Nagar Nigam, Nagar Palika and Nagar Panchayat elections.
The party won additional brownie points when it spearheaded an agitation against Governor Anusuya Uikey, who objected to increased quotas for Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Economically Weaker Section in public employment and admissions in educational institutions, a move backed by the state BJP.
Chhattisgarh reservation quotas are now 76 per cent, the highest in the country.
But trust the Congress to create problems where none exists.
Initially, after the 2018 assembly elections, as part of Rahul Gandhi’s plan to introduce new Congress faces in the state, Tamradhwaj Sahu was chosen to become chief minister.
Mr Baghel, and the other big Congress leader in the state, T S Singh Deo, had just returned from Delhi, where they had each been given an assurance of getting the top job.
But when they landed in Raipur it was Mr Sahu’s supporters who were letting off celebratory fireworks.
Like the proverbial tortoise, Mr Sahu had won the race.
Both returned to the airport and went back to Delhi, where Ahmad Patel thrashed out a half and half arrangement for chief ministership (between Mr Baghel and Mr Singh Deo).
As part of that arrangement Mr Sahu was made home minister.
Then came COVID-19, which claimed Ahmad Patel.
Now you had only Mr Singh Deo’s word that he was given an assurance he would be CM for the second half of the term.
When Mr Baghel refused to budge, Mr Singh Deo ratcheted up his protest.
Mr Singh Deo continues to be unhappy, but Mr Baghel has grown in stature — he was drafted for campaigning in the recent Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections.
He organised the Congress Plenary in Raipur. He enjoys the confidence of the Gandhi family.
As chief minister, Mr Baghel is realistic and free of dogma.
The rural economy is the centrepiece of his government’s economic policy.
The scheme of purchasing cowdung from farmers led to many theories about the government’s soft Hindutva, but it is a fact that Mr Baghel has not allowed the BJP to play up the Hindutva card.
The Gaudhan Nyay Yojana, or GNY, was launched in 2020.
Dung bought from farmers is transported to more than 3,500 government-run cowsheds, where it is turned into fertiliser and other products.
The next step is to turn these into industrial parks.
And if Raman Singh’s triumph was reform in the public distribution system, Mr Baghel’s promises to be grain procurement.
No Chhattisgarh farmer is protesting or demanding guaranteed minimum support price, secure in the knowledge that the state government will buy up all his produce.
The government offers cash assistance to landless agricultural labourers and has introduced health and nutrition facilities.
It promotes local traditions by giving additional public holidays for local festivals, highlighting the significance of local games and cuisine and introducing a state song and a state icon.
The chief minister is in constant touch with the voters through his ‘Bhent-Mulaqat‘ programme, under which he has already visited more than 50 assembly constituencies.
If the corruption issue doesn’t claim Mr Baghel, the Congress’s chances in the state are good. But it is a big ‘if’.
Source: Read Full Article