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Bhupesh Baghel, new Chhattisgarh CM who put Congress back together after Naxal massacre

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Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel is being hailed as the architect of the party’s sweep in the state this year.

New Delhi: Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel was appointed the chief minister Sunday as the party prepared to form its second government in the 18-year-old state. The state was governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the past 15 years.

Baghel, who comes from a farmer’s family, understands the ground situation very well and responds to it quickly, a Congress functionary who has worked with him closely told ThePrint.

Baghel was appointed state party chief in October 2014, just over a year after a Naxal attack in Sukma district led to the death of almost the entire Chhattisgarh Congress leadership, including then chief Nand Kumar Patel.

In this year’s assembly election, he was elected from Patan. He will take oath Monday.

Caste calculations?

Many point out that his elevation by Congress president Rahul Gandhi is driven by caste calculations ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls: Baghel hails from the influential Kurmi (Other Backward Class) community that accounts for around 14 per cent of the state’s population.

However, he is credited with completely turning around the fortunes of the party after he took over as state chief.

According to a senior Congress leader, Baghel’s appointment as chief minister is a “reward” for ensuring the party’s sweeping victory in a state most were expecting to be a close contest.

Also read: 1 in 4 new Chhattisgarh MLAs has a criminal record, 3 of 4 are crorepatis

‘Grasroots man’

Born on 23 August 1961, Baghel started his political career with the Congress in the 1980s and state party leaders point out that he has “literally graduated from the grassroots level to chief ministership”.

“He has earned it,” said a senior Congress leader, “Woh sanghthan ke aadmi hai (He is a man of the organisation). His elevation has come after a long struggle.”

Baghel, who held the post of MP Youth Congress vice-president in 1994-95, was in December 1998 appointed the minister of state for public grievance in the Digvijaya Singh cabinet of united Madhya Pradesh.

He also held the portfolios of revenue, public health engineering and relief work in the first Chhattisgarh government until 2003, when the BJP came to power.

When the Congress lost the 2003 election, Baghel was appointed deputy leader of the opposition in the assembly. He lost the next election from Patan in 2008, as also the two parliamentary elections he contested in 2004 and 2009.

Baghel has courted controversies too. Recently, he was chargesheeted by the CBI for his alleged role in the circulation of a sex CD against a BJP minister in Chhattisgarh.

Also read: Narendra Modi’s ‘urban Naxals’ jibe works like a charm in Chhattisgarh for Congress

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