A black colored Toyota Fortuner car has become an icon in the state. It is slightly dented and scratched from all sides owing to the crowd that surrounds it from time to time. The orange tinge left behind by marigold flowers is omnipresent on the roof of this car. The three-and-a-half-year-old car’s odometer counter today shows 1,96,278 kilometres. This is the car of Chattisgarh’s Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel.
His driver told me that this is the third car he’s using since he has taken charge as Chhattisgarh’s Congress committee chief in December 2013. He recalls that for the first four months in his tenure, Baghel had been using his old car, an XUV 500 and then shifted to a new white Scorpio from the AICC. The white Scorpio was replaced after a year in 2015 with this current black one. The total running kilometres has clocked to 2,76,000 in the past 5 years.
I was told that he had visited every possible corner of the state. From Sukma, Bijapur and Dantewada in Bastar to Manendragarh, Balrampur and Sitapur in the north of the state. He would plan an agitation within minutes and would travel several hundred miles to lead from the front. He would not mind walking for these issues. Sources say that he had undertaken over 1000 kilometres of padyatras in different parts of the state. In fact, he had convinced his leader Rahul Gandhi once to come to Chhattisgarh for a padyatra against land acquisition.
I heard one of his general secretaries in PCC saying, “Bhupesh ji ne toh congressiyon ko andolan karna sikha diya,” translating to, “Bhupesh Ji has taught Congressmen the art of agitation.”
As a media person, over the years, I have come across many leaders but I have rarely seen someone like him. He is a firebrand fighter yet very tender at heart. One journalist tells me that during an interview when a question was asked about his old friend and senior leader Mahendra Karma, he started weeping. The interview had to be stopped for a while.
He scolds his party workers when they are on the wrong end of something but he doesn’t hesitate in travelling a few hundred miles when they are in crisis. The moment the news broke of the lathi charge on his workers in Bilaspur, he rushed to meet them in the hospital as soon as the press conference was over.
He is a family man and prefers to keep his family away from politics. But his family didn’t hesitate to go with him and sit for hours at the Anti-Corruption Bureau office. His ailing mother and wife sat next to him to challenge a false case was registered against the three of them.
Since he has nothing to hide, he has hardly anything to worry about. He has been challenging the BJP government and erstwhile Chattisgarh CM Dr. Raman Singh openly, time and again. In return, he has had to face all kinds of charges, FIRs and charge sheets, most of which seem to be falsified, in an effort to malign his image. Now, as we see, this has been in vain.
Why is Dr. Raman Singh targeting only one person in the opposition Congress party when there are many stalwarts there? Journalists answer it, of course, off the record, “He is the only leader in Congress, who is creating all kind of troubles for the government and making it difficult for them to save face.”
Another one adds, “Despite not being the leader of the house in the Vidhan Sabha, he is most definitely the hero of the house. Without him in the house, the opposition looks weaponless.”
Baghel understands the state like very few people do. Being the son of a farmer, he knows where what pinches the community. He was born and brought up in the village and is aware of how the villagers manage their homes and funds. Hence, when it comes to farmers issues or Ration Card issues or FRA, he would not waste a moment and urge the Congress workers to come down to the streets. In this process, he has successfully compelled Raman Singh’s government to take many u-turns.
This June, when I landed in Chhattisgarh for a project, I was under the impression that the Congress party would be as depressed and scattered as it is in the other states like Bihar, UP and Delhi. But, I was wrong. After a brief read and asking around on the surface level, I came across success stories of the State Congress Committee under his leadership.
Bhupesh Baghel took charge as PCC Chief, while the party was in a state of shock. It had recently lost their top line of leadership in the Jheeram Naxal attack in Bastar. That was followed by a loss in the assembly election by mere 0.73 percent of vote share. There was very little to do for the Lok Sabha election in 2014 where the Modi wave wiped out Chhattisgarh too along with the nation. The Congress was able to win only one seat out of 11.
He started resurrecting the party and soon it became one of the most efficient Congress organizations in the country. Today, he is known as the fighter in the state and he has helped almost every single worker become vocal against the BJP government. No wonder when he reaches any of the public meetings the people often chant, “Dekho dekho kaun aaya? Chhattisgarh ka sher aaya!” translating to “Look who has come, it is Chhattisgarh’s tiger!”
Why? To answer this question, a simple villager in Baloda Bazar said, “Jogi ko party se baahar nikalne se lekar Raman Singh ko jail bhejne ki baat karne wala aur kaun mard hai party mein?” meaning, “From throwing Jogi out of the party to talking about sending Raman Singh to jail, is there any other man in the party?”
This statement seems true as Baghel is visibly the only leader who has challenged the state RSS on many occasions.
He was the one to take up the mammoth task to build an organizational structure that went straight down to the booth level. This was successfully achieved after dozens of training programs. During my project, I had witnessed the database myself and was impressed to see that Congress is more organized at the booth level than the BJP.
Baghel’s organizational skills, his fighting spirit and his commitment to fight the BJP and RSS seem to have paid dividends and that’s why the 2018 elections appeared easy for the Congress in the state. His accessibility has also contributed a lot in bringing votes from the OBC community back into Congress fold. I would not be surprised if the party receives a landslide victory in Chhattisgarh.
To quote American writer John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
Bhupesh Baghel seems to have done all of the above. Hope there’s someone at 24 Akbar Road taking notes.
In fact, Congress needs many Bhupesh Baghels in the party.
To read more about what CM Baghel has to say about important social issues, click here.