As 68 MLAs met here on Wednesday night in the first meeting of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP), there is learnt to be intense jockeying for the Chief Minister’s post in both Delhi and Raipur.
The front-runners for the post, according to party insiders, are Leader of Opposition in previous Assembly T S Singhdeo, state party chief Bhupesh Baghel, Congress OBC wing’s chief Tamradhwaj Sahu, and former Union minister Charandas Mahant.
Mallikarjun Kharge, who as the party’s observer chaired the CLP meeting, told the media that a motion had been passed to authorise Congress president Rahul Gandhi to take a call on the CM. He said Rahul had sought opinion of each MLA, and that would be taken in one-on-one meetings that will continue late into the night.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, multiple MLAs said that most legislators are likely to put up the names of either Singhdeo or Baghel, with Mahant likely to get a few on his side. Given the massive mandate, the party high command will be able to take a call without fear of angering MLAs, which could have destabilised the government had the numbers been fewer, sources said.
“Baghel lost some traction after allegations of trying to get CDs made of other party leaders, but the election victory has brought him back in the fray,” a senior leader said. “MLAs, though, may back Singhdeo given his softer image and the feeling that he will be a good and intelligent administrator.”
At 8.20 pm, an hour after he landed in Raipur, Kharge arrived at a city hotel, with senior leaders in tow. Within an hour, senior representatives from Delhi P L Punia, Chandan Yadav and Arun Oraon – all Congress general secretaries in charge of Chhattisgarh – joined him at the meeting.
At around 9.30 pm, Kharge spoke with the media and said that a resolution had been moved, authorising Rahul Gandhi in Delhi to take the decision.
Sources present at the meeting said the motion to authorise the Congress president was made by Charandas Mahant, seconded by Shiv Dahariya and Tamradhwaj Sahu, and accepted by all legislators.
On Wednesday, the Congress also put out a statement saying that the opinion of 3 lakh Congress workers attached to the Shakti programme was also being sought through phone calls.
As supporters of each of the four contenders thronged the hotel, much of the conversation revolved around who the next CM will be. Singhdeo’s supporters contended that the soft-spoken leader has the acumen to run a government efficiently and deliver on promises, that he was credited with writing the party manifesto after traveling through the state, and had returned a 14-0 sweep in seats he has influence in. Baghel’s supporters, however, argued that he is the party’s state unit chief and had consistently raised his voice against former CM Raman Singh.
The other argument being made for both Baghel and Sahu is that looking at next year’s General Election, it would be prudent to make a leader from OBC community the CM in a state that is OBC-majority.