The Congress High Command is yet to take a call on a change of guard in Chhattisgarh but Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel Sunday signalled his position on the issue by saying that any agreement to rotate chief ministers is a feature of coalition governments while his party has a three-fourth majority in Chhattisgarh.
Speaking to reporters after meeting AICC leaders in Delhi, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra at the residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Baghel also said that it is up to the High Command to take decisions on appointment and removal of chief ministers.
Meanwhile, sources close to Chhattisgarh Health Minister T S Singh Deo, who was in the race for the Chief Minister’s post in 2018 and is the contender again now, said they are “hopeful” of his chances since the party leadership has not yet made up its mind.
According to the sources, the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi had signalled that Baghel and Singh Deo, who was also in Delhi, would equally share the five-year tenure, with Baghel having the first go. However, Baghel, who completed two-and-a-half years in office last month, has repeatedly denied any such agreement.
When contacted by The Indian Express, Singh Deo echoed the Chief Minister’s remarks on the High Command taking “decisions regarding all the states”.
In Delhi, sources close to Rahul Gandhi said Baghel would have risen further in the party and landed key organisational responsibilities had he honoured the “informal agreement”. They also pointed out that Rahul “never reneges on his promises” but were non-committal on whether the leadership would actively push Baghel to step down.
Asked by reporters whether he would be replaced, Baghel said: “Ask the High Command. The High Command has given me the responsibility, so it is the High Command, which appoints and removes. The day it says you need not continue and somebody else will become, somebody else will become (the Chief Minister).”
He said: “In Chhattisgarh, the Congress enjoys over three-fourth majority…toh phir kis-se samjhauta hoga (so with whom will there be an agreement). Had there been another party and had we formed the government with them, then there would have been an agreement. So all this talk is just speculation.”
Sources close to Baghel said the party could also rope him in to oversee its campaign in Uttar Pradesh where Priyanka is the AICC general secretary in-charge. In March, the Congress had appointed Rajesh Tiwari, a close aide of Baghel, as AICC secretary attached to Priyanka. Baghel was also a senior party observer in Assam.
Singh Deo told The Indian Express: “Every state has its own equations and dynamics. It is not a set pattern. It is for the High Command to review the situation. Whatever they feel is the best, they will take a call on that. The Chief Minister has said it quite clearly…that he is there until somebody else is given the responsibility. I don’t think anything more needs to be said. All of us will abide by whatever decision the High Command takes.”
Baghel and Singh Deo — they returned to Raipur together Sunday — have had a turbulent relationship over the last three years. Among the key issues they have differed on are subsidising private healthcare in rural areas, change of officials and curbs on powers, and, most recently, the area of the Lemru Elephant Reserve.
The Health Minister, who is a proponent of the universal health care scheme, had opposed the Chief Minister’s plan of subsidies for private healthcare organisations in rural areas.
As for key officials, the state’s Health Secretary has been changed thrice in less than a year with the official currently holding the position being one against whom Singh Deo had complained against when in Opposition. On Covid, while Singh Deo has been asking for funds to set up 1,200 ICUs, the Health department has been asked to route communication to District Collectors through the office of the Chief Secretary.
On the Reserve, Singh Deo had recently clarified that he was not among those demanding a decrease in area as mentioned in a letter by the Chief Minister to the Forest and Environment Department.
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