Chhattisgarh: Singh Deo's Offer to Resign From Cabinet Jolts Congress

The health minister, believed to be the CM in waiting, is targeting Bhupesh Baghel's failure to fulfil promises made in the manifesto.

Raipur: The senior-most minister in the Chhattisgarh cabinet T.S. Singh Deo, whom many believe to be the chief minister in waiting, has offered to resign from the cabinet if electoral promises made by his government regarding the payment of paddy bonuses are not fulfilled before the next crop is due. It has sent shock waves through the laid back politics of the state, which is going through a particularly somnolent period due to the coronavirus crisis.

Singh Deo had formulated the election manifesto which promised Rs 2,500 per quintal of rice to the farmers against the Rs 1750 + 300 (bonus) being offered then by the Raman Singh led BJP government. It is widely believed to have been the key to the Congress’s bumper harvest in the December 2018 state elections, when it won 67 of the 90 assembly seats.

To its credit, the Bhupesh Baghel government kept its promise of paying the difference of Rs 450 and it was paid almost immediately. Baghel is now in a quandary as the Centre has refused to pay beyond the MSP price for paddy, which is Rs 1,850. It has also refused to stock extra paddy in the Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) godowns if acquisitions are made beyond the stipulated MSP.

Baghel was forced to find a circuitous way to fulfil his promise partly on May 21, which he celebrated as Rajiv Gandhi Nyay Yojana. One-third of Rs 650 per quintal bonus that was promised was transferred directly into the farmer’s accounts. The rest will be paid in two more instalments.

Singh Deo is hitting hard at the inability of Baghel to come up with a solution, as even this one-third of the bonus was paid five months after the procurement of the last paddy crop. The next cycle is due in three months.

Also Read: Coronavirus Breeds Contest Between Baghel, Singh Deo in Chhattisgarh

After the December 2018 elections, it was believed that then-Congress president Rahul Gandhi had promised that Baghel and Singh Deo would share the tenure of chief ministership. For those who still believe that no such promise was made, there is fresh indication. The hapless P.L. Puniya suddenly landed in Raipur last week, even as the crisis shows no signs of abating. He held a meeting with both Baghel and Singh Deo and is believed to have asked the latter not to make any public statement regarding Rahul’s promise since it may cause disturbances in the administration. Singh Deo, to his credit, has never made any such statement. So he simply told Puniya that if that is so, then there should be no statement denying the existence of the promise either. Puniya had no answers.

(L-R) Charan Das Mahant, Tamradhwaj Sahu, Rahul Gandhi, Bhupesh Baghel and T.S. Singh Deo. Credit: Twitter

Differences building up 

There is no denying that differences between Singh Deo and Baghel are building up. The latter has begun asserting his position, which came to the fore again on June 25 after the chief minister announced that Chhattisgarh would become the first state to buy cow dung from farmers. Beginning July 21, the state will buy dung by the kilogram from farmers and will seek to sell it back to them after making organic fertiliser out of it.

Singh Deo, who is the panchayat and rural development minister, is unfortunately not part of the five-member ministerial team which will decide the price at which dung will be bought. Amazingly, urban development minister Shiv Deharia and forest minister Mohammad Akbar are part of the committee though cows are technically banned from roaming in urban areas and grazing in forests. Cooperative minister Premsai Singh and revenue minister Jaisingh Agarwal are part of the same team besides the chief minister.

A nodal agency has also not been designated to buy and store this cargo, even though it has been decided that the fertiliser will be sold through the cooperative department.

The modalities of buying, storing and converting the dung into vermicompost will be decided by another committee led by chief secretary R.P. Mandal, who has finally been given some semblance of responsibility. In Baghel’s style of running things, the chief secretary’s office is nearly redundant as the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) runs everything directly while the police force is led not by the DGP but some mid-level officers who invariably report to the CMO. In the same vein, Singh Deo has been sidelined from something which his department should have been pushing.

Meanwhile, former chief minister Raman Singh is watching the situation with glee. He told The Wire that the internal “contradictory forces” in the government have come to the fore. “Singh Deo is a gentleman and if he says he is ashamed of not fulfilling promises made by his government, then it has to be taken seriously,” he said. On June 30 Singh Deo had tweeted that he was “ashamed of unfulfilled promises to shiksha karmis, youth etc.”

On the other hand, Baghel has taken the unprecedented step of appointing two ministers as “official spokespersons of the government”, in what is being seen as a move to scuttle Singh Deo from making any statements. Mohammad Akbar and Ravindra Choubey have been been given this responsibility, ostensibly on the demands of the local press. The local press is also being treated to lunches at the CM’s house when the building itself has been declared a containment zone due to a member of the security team testing COVID-19 positive.

The battle lines are drawn and the Congress is fast moving towards another crisis.