Congress is getting huge support from OBCs, says Bhupesh Baghel

Bhupesh Baghel (57) is the Congress’ president in Chhattisgarh and has led his party’s attack on chief minister Raman Singh. A former minister and a sitting legislator, Baghel is seen as contender for the chief minister’s post in case his party wins Chhattisgarh. He spoke to Kumar Uttam on change within the Congress, the exit of Ajit Jogi from the party, the challenges for the BJP and other issues. Edited excerpts:

The Congress has lost last three assembly elections in Chhattisgarh. How different is this election from the past?

The biggest advantage is that we do not have Ajit Jogi on our side this time. This is a big development that will have a bearing on the result. He was the Congress’ face in the last three election and took several sections of the society away from the party.

But he was your tallest leader in Chhattisgarh, with considerable support among a section of voters.

He was baggage for the party, and responsible for the previous defeats. He never won an election for the Congress in Chhattisgarh. It was the Congress’ majority in the assembly of a newly created state that helped him become chief minister in 2000. He was in total control in the next three elections of 2003, 2008 and 2013. The Congress could not win.

Jogi’s party has forged an alliance with the Bhujan Samaj Party. How will it hurt Congress’ prospects?

BSP has certain areas of influence. It polled over 4% votes in the previous election. But an alliance with Jogi will limit its influence. Several BSP candidates have been handpicked by Jogi. His own daughter-in-law is contesting on a BSP ticket.

There was talk of an alliance between the Congress and the BSP. Would such an alliance have made a difference in the poll outcome?

Some people felt that BSP would have added strength to us. But that is a mater of the past. Overall, this election is about the anti-incumbency that Raman Singh is facing. There is fatigue after 15 years of BJP rule. People are craving for change. Only Congress can defeat the BJP.

The BJP depends on Raman Singh’s personal appeal among voters. Do you think he still connects with voters?

BJP’s problem is that Singh is its only face. There is no other leader. The BJP (here) starts with Singh and ends with him.

The Congress has not declared any chief ministerial face. Is there a leadership tussle within the Congress?

We are united. We are working towards bringing the Congress to power. Every other issue is immaterial. People are fed up of seeing the same face over the years.

Do you see any anti-incumbency against the BJP government?

Huge. There have been corruption allegations against the chief minister and his family. The BJP MLAs are hugely unpopular.

Do you think there is an anti-incumbency against the Congress MLAs too?

We have done ticket distribution smartly. Every section of the society has got representation. If you see our candidates, you will realise they come from varied socio-economic backgrounds.

The BJP won nine out of 10 seats reserved for scheduled castes (SCs) in the previous election. Is it an indication that the SCs are moving away from the Congress?

Reserved seats have a different dynamic. The non-SCs will be a deciding factor in these seats. We are getting huge support from the OBC (other backward class) communities and our ticket distribution reflects that sentiment. It will be a different story this time.

First Published: Nov 15, 2018 07:42 IST

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