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PL Punia in spotlight after Congress win in Chhattisgarh

However, this time, Congress won 8 out of 11 seats and the BJP couldn’t win any SC seat. Two seats were won by the BSP and one seat went to Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress.

, ET Bureau|
Dec 14, 2018, 07.45 AM IST
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Punia
New Delhi: The phenomenal win of the Congress in Chhattisgarh is likely to catapult PL Punia, general secretary in charge of the state and the man credited with building the party from the grassroots up and ultimately destroying the BJP bastion, into the top echelons of his party’s hierarchy. From a mid-level leader, he is likely to find a place among seniormost leaders as the party gears up for the 2019 general elections.

Punia was made general secretary and in-charge of Chhattisgarh in July 2017, almost 18 months ahead of the assembly elections. In Chhattisgarh, Congress had an OBC president in Bhupesh Baghel and Punia, a Dalit, was given charge to attract the scheduled caste (SC) voters. There are 11 SC reserved seats in Chhattisgarh and in 2013, BJP won 10 of them while Congress could win only one.

Strenght


However, this time, Congress won 8 out of 11 seats and the BJP couldn’t win any SC seat. Two seats were won by the BSP and one seat went to Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress.

Party leaders from Chhattisgarh told ET that this was achieved through the sheer hard work of Punia who was involved right from candidate selection to campaign to booth management. “Usually, parties deploy Dalit leaders in SC reserved seats. But Puniaji strategically also focused on other castes in the constituency apart from Dalits and accordingly leaders were deployed,” a Chhattisgarh Congress leader told ET.

In MP and Rajasthan, Congress had strong state leaders and the general secretaries in-charge helped them manage the campaigns. But in Chhattisgarh, the party has no big face and it was Punia’s responsibility to build the organisation. “There was a general perception that Chhattisgarh is tougher among the three states for the Congress,” Punia told ET. “I preferred to work on specific strategies for each assembly constituency.”

He organised around 100 meetings in all the assembly seats to train party workers from the booth to the district level.

“They were trained about how to advocate for the party and highlight the failures of the BJP government to convince voters in their public discussions,” said a Chhattisgarh Congress leader.

Once the elections were completed, Punia was convinced that the party would win after collecting data from the booths. “You win elections at booths and my estimate is that we will be around 70,” he told ET. “But since people would laugh at such claims, I reduced it and told 50 plus to the leadership in Delhi.”

Congress has won 68 out of 90 seats in Chhattisgarh. Punia, a former UP cadre IAS officer, became Lok Sabha MP from Barabanki in UP in 2009. In 2013, he became the chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.

In 2014, he lost the Lok Sabha elections but four months after that, he became a Rajya Sabha MP. “Apart from Chhattisgarh, I am focusing on my constituency Barabanki in UP and spend at least two days in a week. The party leadership has always entrusted me with challenging responsibilities,” he said.
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