Two Cong pots simmer: Party gives mixed signals on Captain, Baghel remains defiant

THE CONGRESS is once again battling to contain rebellions threatening its governments in both Punjab and Chhattisgarh, despite the high command stepping in.

In Punjab, ministers and MLAs seeking Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s removal reiterated their demand Wednesday, despite the Congress asserting that there was no question of doing so. In Chhattisgarh, fresh from a peacemaking meeting with Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, CM Bhupesh Baghel again took potshots at rival T S Singh Deo

Four Punjab Congress ministers and three MLAs met the party’s state in-charge Harish Rawat in Dehradun Wednesday to seek Amarinder’s removal. Rawat, who said before the meeting that the 2022 Assembly elections would be fought under Amarinder, is learnt to have told them the CM would remain


Talking to The Indian Express, Rawat said nobody has “officially submitted any memorandum or something to me” seeking a leadership change. “I have been hearing this from Punjab… media and others. But I don’t think this is there. There are some problems, issues which require to be redressed by the CM. I think he will take the (steps needed).”

Asked specifically whether Amarinder would lead the party in the elections, as he was reported as having said, Rawat said it was for the high command to decide as to “who will be the CM”. “I have nothing to say.” On whether he could say with full confidence that Amarinder would continue as CM till the elections, Rawat said, “Iss samay toh CM hain na woh (Right now, isn’t he the CM)?”

Those who met Rawat included ministers Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Charanjeet Singh Channi and Sukhbinder Sarkaria, apart from MLAs Barindermeet Pahda, Kulbir Zira and Surjit Dhiman. The meeting of Punjab Congress leaders on Tuesday that called for Amarinder’s removal was held at Bajwa’s residence.

Rawat admitted that some controversial comments made by newly appointed Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu’s aides were an issue. “I have spoken to the PCC president. He assured me he will resolve it. I told him comments on such sensitive issues against the party’s accepted line… the party will not accept them,” he said.

On his meeting with the Punjab leaders, Rawat said it was about “grievances related to the constituency level”, besides political and general issues. “They wanted certain things to happen in the party, the government to resolve some issues immediately because elections are approaching. They were right… Some were worried about stoppage of funds, some about political appointments… They raised many issues which are in the interest of the state… not all issues were personal.”

Rawat said he had told the leaders he would do what he could. “The grievances which can be redressed at my level, I will try to sort them out… (others) I would bring to the attention of the leadership.”

A source said Rawat was clear that the leaders were welcome to meet him, but there was no question of anyone other than Amarinder leading the party in the elections. “The government will be fulfilling all its promises in the next few months. The sentiments conveyed by the delegation will be conveyed to the high command,” the source said.

In Chhattisgarh, Baghel said those talking about rotation of CM post were “trying to bring political instability”. The Singh Deo camp talks of a promise reportedly given to him at the time of government formation in 2018 that he would replace Baghel after two-and-a-half years.

In an apparent show of strength, hundreds of people along with 15-odd MLAs, including ministers Ravindra Chaubey and Amarjeet Bhagat, came to Raipur airport to receive Baghel as he arrived from Delhi Wednesday. Flowers were showered on him, amidst slogans such as “Chhattisgarh ada hua hai, CM Bhupesh Baghel ke sang khada hua hai (Chhattisgarh is standing strong, standing with CM Baghel)”. Later, around 25 MLAs reportedly came to Baghel’s residence for a meeting, details of which were kept under wraps.

Baghel told reporters he had spoken to the party leadership in Delhi about the schemes of the “state government, development and political situation”. “Punia ji has already clarified (about the rumours of leadership change). After his statement, is there anything left to be said?” Baghel remarked. P L Punia is the Congress in-charge of Chhattisgarh.

While Baghel and Singh Deo met Rahul Gandhi together and separately Tuesday, the CM also met AICC chief K C Venugopal Wednesday morning before returning to Raipur.

Baghel added that he wasn’t hankering for a post and “when the high command orders, I will quit”. “Those who are talking about two-and-a-half years, they are trying to bring political instability and they will never succeed.”

Thanking Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for entrusting the CM post to “a farmer like me”, Baghel said his government was “of farmers, tribals, labourers and 2.8 crore people of the state”. He claimed that the BJP kept attacking him because it was a “farmers’ government”. “The son of a farmer is the CM, whom they consider their biggest challenge.”

Asked about the slogans raised by his supporters, Baghel said everyone was hailing “Sonia ji, Rahul ji and the Congress party”.

For a week now, Raipur has been plastered with posters demonstrating similar support for Baghel, through wishes for his birthday, which fell on August 23.

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