On September 24, 2018, Bhupesh Baghel made his way into Raipur Central Prison. Chargesheeted by the CBI for the alleged dissemination of a fake sex CD of then PWD Minister Rajesh Munat, he refused to apply for bail, alleging that this was government harassment because he was raising his voice against then Chief Minister Raman Singh.
Three days later, he walked out of jail to a hero’s welcome. Many in the Congress were not convinced. The charges may have been trumped up, they said, but he shouldn’t have kept his distance from this controversy, and not refused bail.
Three months on, Baghel is now Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.
A political survivor, Baghel, 57, joined the Indian Youth Congress in 1985 and contested his first assembly election from Patan in 1993 and won. Since then, he was won from the seat four times, losing once to BJP’s Vijay Baghel in 2008.
Who is Bhupesh Baghel?
Bhupesh Baghel has also contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2009 from Durg and Raipur respectively, losing both times. He was appointed minister of state in Digvijaya Singh’s Madhya Pradesh Cabinet in 1998, and was named transport minister in 1999.
When Chhattisgarh was created, he was the minister for revenue, public health engineering and relief work till 2003. However, he first came into the limelight in 2013, when he was handed the reins of the party after a deadly Maoist attack in Jhiram wiped out the entire Congress leadership in the state.
The Congress failed to win the next assembly elections, and tasked with reviving a demoralised party, Baghel was a firebrand, led padyatras, and drew very clear battle lines. Many credit Baghel with Ajit Jogi and his family’s exit from the Congress after tapes, suggesting that the Jogis were striking a deal with the BJP during the 2015 Antagarh bypoll, emerged.
Soon after being named CM, Baghel said the government will form an SIT into the Jhiram massacre, and he has often hinted that there was political involvement in the attack.
A Kurmi leader of the OBC community, many Congressmen believe that apart from his caste, his relentless attacks on Raman Singh also played a role in his becoming CM. “It is this aggression that kept the part workers charged, and created the image that even Raman Singh is not clean,” a senior Congress leader said. But others fear Baghel will bring a sense of “politics of revenge” to the chief minister’s chair, and that he will have to dial down with the controversies if he has to succeed.
A few weeks after he emerged from jail, videos emerged where Baghel seemed to solicit objectionable tapes of other Congress leaders for leverage, and with other leaders protesting in Delhi, sources said that he was “even close to losing the PCC chair” if it weren’t for the fact that elections were close.
“There is a reason many MLAs sided with T S Singhdeo and not him… It is one thing to do this in the opposition, and another while running a government,” a leader said. Either way, just like he did with most controversies, and even in the struggle for the chief minister’s chair, Baghel will likely find a way to survive.