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A brief biography/ as in 2018
Bhupesh Baghel, the gritty warrior who just never gave up, is credited with instilling courage in Congress workers to fight against a well-entrenched BJP in Chhattisgarh and rout the mighty Raman Singh government.
Having taken over as PCC chief in the aftermath of Congress defeat in 2013, Baghel, a backward caste leader, had a huge task in hand — revive the state Congress and fight the faction led by former CM Ajit Jogi. Infighting was at its peak then. After three consecutive defeats, the state Congress was in tatters. Days before he took over, nearly the entire frontline leadership of Congress was wiped out in the Jhiram Ghati Maoist massacre. All hope seemed lost.
Baghel stepped up. Sharing a good chemistry with the soft-spoken leader of the opposition T S Singhdeo, Baghel began rebuilding the party from the grassroots, checking erosion. He courageously cast out the seemingly all-powerful Jogi, and began jabbing at the BJP government.
Inside and outside the assembly, Baghel took on the BJP regime head-on, quite in contrast to the previous 10 years when most senior Congress leaders were seen “softpedalling” on the BJP government, and particularly wary of saying anything against Raman Singh. Baghel had no such hesitation and went hammer and tongs at the CM and top ministers.
As his political attacks intensified, cases were registered against Baghel and his family members by Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in connection with an alleged land grabbing case. Baghel insisted it was out of political vendetta.
In April 2018, police arrested journalist Vinod Verma, a close confidant of Baghel, claiming that sex CDs of a minister were found in his possession. An FIR was registered against Baghel and CBI named him in the chargesheet, along with a BJP leader, Kailash Morarka.
Baghel refused to seek bail and stayed in jail for a couple of days before Congress high command persuaded him to come out on bail and focus on election campaigning. Despite criminal cases being filed against him, Baghel was undeterred and intensified his attacks on the CM. BJP leaders saw Baghel as a major political irritant. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to BJP chief Amit Shah, BJP big guns targeted him during the election campaign. But Baghel had the last laugh.
As a minister in undivided Madhya Pradesh and later in the Ajit Jogi government, Baghel came to be known as an able administrator. He was deputy leader of the Congress legislature party during the first tenure of BJP from 2003-2008. A gradate, he became a legislator for the first time at the age of 32 and has been elected to the assembly four times.
A run for chief ministership
After a landslide victory in Chhattisgarh, Congress has a problem of plenty when it comes to potential CM candidates. It appears that four leaders, PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel, TS Singhdeo, Tamradwaj Sahu and Charandas Mahant, are in the race for chief ministership, though Baghel is the frontrunner.
When Baghel took over, Congress was still reeling from the shock of losing nearly its entire frontline leadership in the Jhiram Ghati Maoist massacre of May 2013. The then PCC chief, Nandkumar Patel, veteran leader V C Shukla, and senior tribal leader Mahendra Karma were among those slain.
Baghel not only revived demoralised party workers, he successfully marginalised former CM Ajit Jogi and his family. Inside and outside the assembly, Baghel took the BJP regime head-on, quite in contrast to the previous 10 years when most senior Congress leaders were seen as “soft” on the BJP government, and particularly wary of saying anything against CM Raman Singh. As his political attacks intensified, cases were registered against Baghel and his family members in connection with an alleged land grabbing case. He even did a stint in jail before the Congress high command persuaded him to come out on bail and focus on election campaigning.
Leader of Opposition T S Singhdeo, a soft-spoken leader who is the perfect foil to the bolder Baghel, is also an aspirant for the top post. Singhdeo (66) is one of the richest politicians in central India, with declared assets of more than Rs 500 crore.
With Congress performing well in the OBC belt in the central plains, sitting MP Tamradwaj Sahu, who is also president of AICC’s OBC cell, is seen as someone who can help Congress win back the politically aware and powerful Sahu community. However, it will be difficult for the Congress to ignore the Kurmis, another OBC community whose prominent face is Baghel.
Kurmis and Sahus constitute about 36% of the state’s population. Another OBC leader waiting in the wings is former Union minister Charandas Mahant.