It’s perhaps time to reassess Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel. A one-term minister in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and a successful Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee president, Baghel was obdurately anti-upper caste, impatient with bureaucracy and slow to warm up to fresh ideas and new people.
Rooted in rustic manners and deriving energy from his native intelligence, Baghel is a steadfast Congressman. He is junior to Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, his own guru Digvijay Singh and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot by several years. So what’s driving him to challenge the prime minister in ways that no Congress leader has dared to?
David vs Goliath
This week, he was at the Election Commission in Delhi with a small team of lawyers and supporters to register a complaint against Modi for his vitriolic speech in Balod, Chhattisgarh. Modi, he complained was seeking votes in the name of Pulwama victims and Balakot airstrike which was patently against the EC guidelines.
A few days earlier, he mail-ordered a hand-held mirror from Amazon to the prime minister’s residence. Immediately afterwards he tweeted, “This is for you to look at yourself before you leave home”. A couple of days later, he tweeted that he has gotten confirmation that the mirror has been received.
हो सकता है कि आप इस आईने का इस्तेमाल ही ना करें। पीएम निवास के किसी कूड़ेदान में फेंक दें। लेकिन आईना देखने से आप फिर भी नहीं बच पाएंगे। इस देश की 125 करोड़ की आबादी इस चुनाव में आपको आईना दिखाने वाली है।
— Bhupesh Baghel (@bhupeshbaghel) April 1, 2019
Why is he taking on the prime minister? Will playing David against a Goliath with such cheekiness jog along his politics? Is he seeking attention or is he being led to his hara-kiri altar? Whatever the reasons behind his adrenalin, Baghel has shown unusual spunk for a Congress chief minister. Despite his initial stumbling against a bureaucratic environment, he has managed to cage the main BJP leaders which no one else in the neighbouring states has done or is even attempting to do.
Immediately on his ascension to the post of chief minister, he ordered Special Investigative Teams to probe cases against people close to ex-chief minister Raman Singh, including his son-in-law Dr Puneet Gupta, his principal secretary Aman Singh and ADG Mukesh Gupta. These probes are now coming in handy to put pressure on opponents, similar to the way that the Modi government had done through the ED and CBI. All those named above are either absconding or in court busy defending themselves rather than attacking Baghel or the Congress.
Of the lot, only Aman Singh appears to be in the clear as far as court cases or allegations being probed are concerned. A careful bureaucrat, Aman had been the backbone of the Raman Singh government but was never directly embroiled in any controversy or scam. But the cases and probes always put a brake on life as Kamal Nath and his team are experiencing in Madhya Pradesh.
Despite his vast experience and seniority, Nath has refused to probe or even publicly criticise his predecessor Shivraj Singh for any of the several alleged scams – ranging from Dumper to Vyapam to the E-sourcing scam – during his tenure. If he had put his opponents on the mat like Baghel, Nath’s difficulties would have been less conspicuous or even less likely. Politics is about a show of strength and Baghel has taken a leaf out of the Modi-Shah book.
No holds barred
Baghel also never misses an opportunity to throw darts at Raman Singh if the BJP ever speaks of the damaadji Robert Vadra and his many cases with the ED. He was also quick to get Raman Singh’s entire team including Singh himself to vacate their government accommodations even before the three-month leeway – that is generally granted – had lapsed.
Compare this with the hundreds of houses that BJP and RSS workers still occupy illegally in Bhopal, whom Nath has not been able to even issue notices to. People may click their tongues at such tactics but with Baghel, its par for the course, just as Modi did in Delhi. His close advisors say that he was even unwilling to allow anyone from the BJP to become the leader of opposition in the state assembly – just as Modi had done in parliament. But eventually, he relented, as the BJP chose another OBC leader instead of Raman Singh, the LoP.
As the campaigning progresses in Chhattisgarh, Baghel has become more stringent in pouring vitriol against Modi in his public meetings. Holding back no punches, he focuses more on national issues rather than just local, but the ultimate decider will, of course, be the number of seats he is able to snatch from the BJP – which at the moment stands at 10-1.
In our democracy, unfortunately, power begets pelf and arrogance, but everyone meets his or her match one day. Baghel is a long way from there against Shah and Modi but he is surely throwing some punches.