Raipur: After a two-day visit to Chhattisgarh, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary P.L. Punia sought to deny that a “two-and-half-year power-sharing understanding” between chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and health minister T.S. Singhdeo will come into play.
Rumour has it that the power-sharing formula was promised by Congress president Rahul Gandhi when he was party president, after the party’s thumping victory in the 2018 assembly elections. Punia, however, has stated unequivocally that there was no such formula agreed upon between the two leaders.
On June 17, Baghel completed two and half years in office, and the buzz around a change of guard assumes significance at a time when the Congress party is faced with dissatisfaction in Punjab and Rajasthan.
However, since there has been no comment from Gandhi regarding the matter, it is generally being assumed that Baghel will continue in office.
While Singhdeo is now maintaining a studied silence, sources from his camp suggest that they are still awaiting Gandhi’s nod. Their stance is that since Gandhi has himself not clearly denied ever making such a promise, and that it still holds water.
Meanwhile, a WhatsApp message in circulation is claiming that 50 Congress party MLAs have discussed the matter with Singhdeo and he has since proceeded to Delhi. Singhdeo has called this report fake news and handiwork possibly of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has an interest in destabiliSing the Baghel-led Chhattisgarh government.
To put things in perspective, on his two-day visit, Punia did not meet any party MLAs to seek their opinion on the matter. Also, his visit was limited to meeting the party office bearers and the chief minister. He has also denied the existence of the formula before.
The 2.5 years of Baghel sarkar
Meanwhile, a local newspaper has carried an advertising gimmick by conducting a survey of 2.5 years of Baghel government. It is clearly a sponsored feature which exhibits the progress made under Baghel with an emphasis on his paddy procurement success. “Governments usually take out [newspaper] ads to commemorate 100 days or two years or five years, but no one has ever heard of a ‘2.5 years’ survey,” says a political observer.
In another development, a select transfer list of IAS officers is also being seen as indicative of an impending change. Bureaucrats close to the present government have acquired new prized postings. Significant districts like Korba and Rajnandgaon and the capital itself have got new officers. The publicity department now has a new head. The postings, even in the midst of a lockdown-like situation, in the state are being interpreted as rewards before any change happens, if indeed it happens, because politics is unpredictable.
What is undeniable though is the fact that the Congress high command is under immense pressure to keep its flock together in several states and it does not want to see another state government disintegrate.
Baghel has not only won the trust of the high command in his time in office so far as an administrator, but he has also managed to establish firm control over both the party as well as the government infrastructure.
On the other hand, Singhdeo is being seen as somewhat of a ‘gentleman’ not cut out for party politics’ tactics. While he spent a good part of the past two and half year tackling the coronavirus pandemic in the state as health minister, Baghel had the opportunity to campaign in Assam.
What Singhdeo is banking upon is his personal good relations with Gandhi and his family’s long-standing tradition in the Congress party. Unlike Navjot Singh Sidhu, he is not a newcomer, and neither is he as young and inexperienced as Sachin Pilot.
Singhdeo has shown great restraint in not mingling with the BJP and not depending on a show of strength, despite reportedly enjoying the support of 27-43 Congress MLAs.
Meanwhile, several senior Congress MLAs believe that even if Baghel continues in office, there should be a cabinet reshuffle.
Senior MLAs like Satyanarain Sharma, Dhanendra Sahu, Amitesh Shukla and Arun Vora have been kept waiting for long. They are senior to Baghel, have headed the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) in the past and come from Congress families like those of Shyamacharan Shukla and Motilal Vora. Their supporters claim that going into elections in another two years’ time, without showing significant work in these key constituencies, will undermine the Congress’s reputation.