INFIGHTING IN the ruling Congress in Chhattisgarh reached another flashpoint on Thursday with the party’s Bilaspur city unit recommending expulsion of sitting MLA Shailesh Pandey from the party for alleging that supporters of state Health Minister T S Singh Deo were being targeted by the police machinery.
The allegation is being seen as an apparent attack on Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who is involved in a power tussle with Singh Deo over the issue of chief ministership.
The recommendation came a day after Pandey and his supporters gheraoed a police station protesting against an FIR filed by the police against Singh Deo’s aide Pankaj Singh in an assault case.
State Congress chief Mohan Markam distanced himself from the tussle, saying he had not received any complaint as he was travelling. “I am neither a Baghel supporter nor a Singh Deo supporter; I work for the party and I support the party,” he said.
Singh had allegedly assaulted a radio-lab technician of Chhattisgarh Institute of Medical Science in Bilaspur on September 18 after relatives of a patient sought his help to get certain tests done. The CCTV footage of Singh assaulting the complainant, Tula Tande, was circulated on social media on Wednesday.
“We have booked Singh under Section 186 IPC (obstruction in government work), Section 353 (criminal assault on a govt employee on duty) and Section 3 of Chhattisgarh Medical Service Persons and Medical Service Institutions Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss to Property Act 2010,” Bilaspur SP Prashant Agrawal told reporters.
Pandey on Wednesday alleged that the police had not informed Singh about the FIR. “We got to know through media reports…. I asked the police why the FIR was registered against Singh and they said because they had orders from senior officials,” he told reporters.
“Have the police being ordered to target people close to TS [Singh Deo]? An FIR was registered against me last year for distributing rice during Covid-19 times. Now this FIR against Singh because he was trying to help a poor patient.”
On Thursday, Pandey did not respond to requests for comment on the recommendation to expel him. Sources close to him told The Indian Express that he would issue a statement on Friday.
The Bilaspur MLA was among those who returned with Singh Deo from a recent trip to Delhi after more than 30 other party leaders reached the national capital in an apparent show of strength by Chief Minister Baghel.
The latest developments have refreshed the tussle between Baghel and Singh Deo over, what supporters of the latter claim, a closed-door understanding after the last elections that both leaders will share the five-year tenure by half as chief minister. The Baghel’s camp has denied any such understanding.
While Singh Deo is currently in Delhi on a personal visit, Baghel is planning meet Rahul Gandhi in the first week of October.
The decision of the Bilaspur Congress has highlighted the divide in the party, senior party leaders said. According to a senior leader, who requested anonymity, action against Pandey was “too stern”, especially after no action was taken against another MLA, Brihaspat Singh, who had leveled serious allegations against Singh Deo of being a threat to his life.
The recommendation to expel Pandey for six years has been sent to the state Congress discipline team, which will take the final call.