Not Going Anywhere: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister After Rahul Gandhi Meet

For his second meeting this week with Rahul Gandhi, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel had staged a show of strength, bringing over 50 MLAs to Delhi.

Bhupesh Baghel dismissed the "rotation formula" (File)

New Delhi:

After a three-hour meeting at Rahul Gandhi's home this evening, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel made it clear that he is keeping his job and a challenge from his minister TS Singh Deo has been handled. Whether Mr Singh Deo agrees will be known in the coming days.

Sources say Rahul Gandhi asked Mr Baghel to continue as Chief Minister, ending his misery after days of turmoil over claims of a "rotational formula" by Mr Singh Deo.

"I have told Rahul Gandhi my dil ki baat (from the heart), whatever I had to say. Now he is coming next week to Chhattisgarh," the Chief Minister told reporters, adding that he had urged the Congress leader to "come and see the situation" in the state. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also joined the meeting for a short while, making it the second time the Gandhi siblings together tackled a state crisis after Punjab.

Mr Baghel stressed that he had invited Mr Gandhi as Chief Minister and he would also receive him as one.

"Our government is safe. We are all united. Mr Singh Deo is a minister in our government. I am willing to work with him and give him respect," the Chief Minister told NDTV.

For his second meeting this week with Mr Gandhi - both Mr Baghel and Mr Singh Deo had met with the former Congress chief on Tuesday - the Chief Minister had staged a show of strength, bringing over 50 of the party's 70 MLAs to Delhi.

Mr Singh Deo has been demanding his turn at the Chief Minister's post since Mr Baghel completed half-term in June. He claimed he was promised a rotational arrangement by the Congress in 2018 when the party came to power in Chhattisgarh.

Mr Baghel dismissed the claim. "There were attempts... but there was no formula of rotation," he asserted, with Congress's Chhattisgarh in-charge PL Punia by his side.

"There was no two-and-a-half-year formula. Even TS Singh Deo has said there was no formula," Mr Punia said, adding that Mr Baghel and Mr Singh Deo shared a very "madhur (cordial)" relationship.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Punia had conceded for the first time that there was a crisis when he told reporters: "There is an issue of leadership, which we are addressing."

The Congress swept the Chhattisgarh polls in December 2018, winning 70 of 90 seats and leaving incumbent BJP far behind at 14 seats.

As the party chose Mr Baghel as Chief Minister, Mr Singh Deo and other candidates agreed to stand down. What followed was a picture of unity tweeted by Mr Gandhi, with Mr Baghel and all his rivals.

Sources said one of the reasons for the truce was the party's assurance that Mr Singh Deo would be Chief Minister in the second half of the Congress's term, though the party never officially said it.

Senior Congress leaders had reportedly argued with the Gandhis at the time that a rotational arrangement is impractical. But leaders said Mr Baghel used all this time to consolidate his support among MLAs and entrench himself firmly in the post, which is why he was able to flex his strength.

For the Congress, replacing Mr Baghel, an OBC leader, is a tough call in a largely tribal state. Mr Singh Deo is a Thakur.

Prakash Nayak, one of the MLAs who came to Delhi for Mr Baghel's show of strength, said:  "All is well now. Tomorrow all MLAs will return to Chhattisgarh. We will now prepare for Rahul-ji's visit."