Congress impasse on Chhattisgarh continues

Rahul to visit State, says Baghel, ducks question on Singh Deo’s challenge

No clear announcement on the leadership question in Chhattisgarh was forthcoming at the end of nearly four hour talks between Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Friday but the Baghel camp appears confident that he has survived for now.  General Secretary (Organisation) K.C. Venugopal and Mr. Punia were also present at the meeting.

Mr. Baghel told the reporters at the end of the meeting that on his invitation, Mr Gandhi had agreed to visit Chhattisgarh to see the progress made by his government on various fronts.

He ducked questions on the reported assurance given to Health Minister T.S. Singh Deo on a split tenure by the former Congress president. Mr. Baghel claimed that this issue was clarified three days back by the State in-charge P.L. Punia after his meeting with Mr. Gandhi on Tuesday.

“Our State in-charge P.L. Punia has already amply clarified the position on this issue. Once he has spoken, what else can I say,” Mr Baghel said.

The imperative of realpolitik is weighing in favour of Mr Baghel who sources said has managed to impress upon the Gandhi siblings on why continuing with him is key for the party’s survival in the State.

Mr Punia had claimed that there was no discussion on a change of leadership in the State. But the statement did little to end speculation.

Mr. Baghel said that during the meeting, both political and administrative issues of the State were discussed.

“At the end of the meeting, I requested Mr. Gandhi to visit the State to see our work and he gladly accepted the invitation. He will be coming next week,” Mr. Baghel said. On the question of whether he will continue as the Chief Minister, Mr Baghel said he had invited Mr. Gandhi in his position as Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.

Sources said Ms. Vadra could not attend Tuesday’s meeting as she not in Delhi, and Mr. Baghel was asked to return to the capital for another round in her presence. While Mr. Gandhi, is bound by his reported promise to Mr. Deo, Ms. Vadra, senior leaders claim, is batting for continuing with Mr. Baghel. Being the party’s lead OBC face, Ms. Vadra, according to the sources has expressed that a change in leadership just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls where each party is pursuing the backward vote, would send the wrong message.

Within the state too, where OBC is the biggest votebank, the BJP itself is looking for a credible backward face ahead of the next elections in 2023.

 In a show of strength 55 of 70 Congress legislators who support Mr Baghel flew down to Delhi. After spending the entire day lobbying for Mr Baghel, the supporting MLAs moved to party headquarters at 24 Akbar Road. They were seen congratulating at the conclusion of Mr Baghel meeting with the Gandhi siblings. Sources said, that Mr Baghel has unequivocally conveyed to his supporters that he has survived for now. The entire contingent of 55 MLAs and Mr Baghel return to Raipur in a chartered flight on Saturday afternoon.

On Thursday night, 26 MLAs supporting him arrived in a chartered airplane to the capital.

“We went directly to Mr Punia’s home at around 11 p.m. He had already slept, we woke him up and told him that the decision on who should be the Chief Minister should be left to us since it is we who have to face elections and not any leader sitting in Delhi,” one of the legislators said.

Following the meeting between Mr Baghel and Mr Gandhi, the legislators have decided to return to Chhattisgarh.

“Mr Gandhi is coming to Raipur and Bastar so we have decided to return to prepare for his visit,” Bilaspur MLA Devendra Yadav told The Hindu.

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