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Congress’s caste math ahead of 2019 polls worked for Bhupesh Baghel

Though nobody could deny that Baghel was responsible for Congress’ turnaround after it lost its entire leadership in a Maoist attack in 2013, the party’s central leadership was looking at caste mathematics ahead of 2019 elections.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Dec 17, 2018, 08.44 AM IST|Original: Dec 17, 2018, 08.44 AM IST
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Under Baghel (right), Congress took to the streets through dharnas and taking up causes including, farm distress, vacant government posts and rejection of land rights to tribals.
NEW DELHI: Bhupesh Baghel, the street fighter, came out victorious on Sunday. After leading the Congress through a tumultuous phase beginning 2014 and decisively throwing out Raman Singh-led BJP government, 57-year-old Baghel staked claim to form the government in Chhattisgarh.

It wasn’t a smooth ride to the top post for Baghel, who would be Chhattisgarh’s first OBC chief minister. OBCs constitute 45% of the state’s population. Though nobody could deny that Baghel was responsible for Congress’ turnaround after it lost its entire leadership in a Maoist attack in 2013, the party’s central leadership was looking at caste mathematics ahead of 2019 elections. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had handpicked Tamardhwaj Sahu, party’s lone MP from Chhattisgarh, to fight an election from Durg (Rural). Through this decision, Gandhi had tried to win over Sahus, an influential sub-caste of OBCs which has solidly voted for BJP. However, Baghel got the maximum support of MLAs and other party colleagues, including T S Singh Deo.

Baghel has risen from the ranks. He joined Indian Youth Congress in 1985. Baghel was nurtured by Congress veteran Digvijaya Singh and even found a place in Singh’s second Cabinet in 1998 in undivided Madhya Pradesh. Baghel has represented Patan Assembly constituency in Durg district. However, beginning 2004, Baghel saw a spate of electoral defeats. He was Congress candidate from Durg parliamentary segment in 2004 but he lost. In 2008, he even lost his Assembly election from Patan seat. Following this, in 2009, he lost from Raipur Lok Sabha seat. Despite this, his image as a street fighter saw him being elevated in October 2014 as state Congress president. For Chhattisgarh Congress, it was a clear indication that Congress high command was done kid-glove handling former chief minister Ajit Jogi. Baghel, a known critic of Jogi, was seen as the party’s way of telling Jogi to give up his blackmailing tactics or leave.

Under Baghel, Congress took to the streets through dharnas and taking up causes including, farm distress, vacant government posts and rejection of land rights to tribals. One of the biggest initiatives under Baghel was “Vikas Khojo” yatra which saw Congress looking for “development”.

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