Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel is a busy man. Apart from handling the political developments and governance in his home state, he has also been asked by the Congress leadership to ensure that the party does well in the forthcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. Baghel was appointed as the senior observer for UP on 3 September. The extremely challenging role was given to him after he ensured the party won 50 Assembly seats in Assam where Baghel had a similar role. Baghel spoke exclusively to The Sunday Guardian on the UP polls, the possibility of an alliance and on whether Chhattisgarh will see a change of CM or not. Excerpts:
Q: You have been given a crucial role by the party leadership for the UP elections just days before the polls are scheduled to take place. You do not have much time in that sense. What will be your strategy?
A: The state leaders and workers in UP, under the leadership of Priyanka Gandhi, Ajay Lallu (state president) and members of the PCC are already working on the ground for a long time. My job is to help them.
You must have seen how ever since Priyanka Gandhi has assumed the charge of the state (as general secretary), the party workers and leaders are fighting with a never seen before vigour and energy. The way she is working in the state, by taking a path of struggle, has led to people getting attracted to the Congress.
Q: You have 7 MLAs in UP. How many, realistically, do you believe the party will win in the forthcoming UP polls?
A: See, politics does not work simply as 2+2=4. That party will come in power, which is able to gain the trust of the people. The important thing is that we have two things working for us—the efforts being put by Priyanka Gandhi and the sharpness that the organisation has got after she took over the responsibility.
Q: During the Chhattisgarh polls, which you won in 2018, your only opposition was the Raman Singh-led BJP. In UP, you will be facing the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, the BSP and other parties. Who do you consider as your political enemy no 1 in UP?
A: In Chhattisgarh, we had multiple political opponents like Jogi Congress, the BSP, apart from the BJP. You cannot ignore this; here also we had more than one opponent. But the people overwhelmingly voted for the Congress. People of UP are seeing the kind of atrocities the women, members of Scheduled Castes and farmers have faced in the state. They will respond to these atrocities.
Q: You mentioned about the atrocities that have happened against farmers. Do you think the accident in Lakhimpur Kheri will be relevant until the polls?
A: The issue of farmers is a big issue. We recently went to Varanasi and there the farmers told us that they are selling paddy at Rs 900 per quintal. I told them that we used to give a price of Rs 2,500 per quintal and now we are also giving a subsidy of Rs 9,000. We are giving subsidies not just to paddy farmers, but every farmer. This visibly made a big impact on the farmers. Priyankaji told them the Congress will replicate the Chhattisgarh model in Uttar Pradesh.
Q: Will Congress go into an alliance, post, pre or strategic with any political party?
A: I cannot say anything on this because SP, BSP have already given different statements on this issue. Our national and local UP leaderships will decide on this.
Q: Is there even a possibility of an alliance?
A: I cannot say anything, I really don’t know.
Q: I have been speaking to Congress leaders in UP and they claim that Mayawati is work ing as the “B team” of the BJP. What is your view on this?
A: I have just been appointed as an observer. After that the incident at Lakhimpur Kheri happened, hence I will not be able to share anything on this at a very detailed or minute level. However, if something is in the air, then it cannot be ignored.
Q: You are an avid user of Twitter and some of your recent tweets in retaliation to attacks on the Congress by a few individuals generated a lot of political debate. You have an image of speaking your heart out…
A: I have said what I wanted to say on this topic, there is no point in talking about it now. In the future if something similar happens, I will respond again.
Q: Coming to Chhattisgarh, is the topic of “change of CM in the state” over now?
A: On this topic, P.L. Punia, the in-charge of state, has already issued a statement. That should be considered as the final statement on this issue.
Q: So there will not be any change in the CM even after the UP polls?
A: That is something the high command can tell you. The representative of our high command is P.L. Punia sahab, who has already given a clear statement. So, for me to speak further on this topic would not be appropriate.
Q: A scheme launched by you, “Gobar to power” has generated a lot of curiosity among the watchers of the state. What is the response to this scheme?
A: We have so far built 6,000 of the proposed 10,000 Gothan (day care centre for animals). In the last one year, we have purchased 50 lakh quintal cow dung, for which we have paid more than Rs 100 crore to the cow dung sellers. Out of this cow dung, vermicompost is being produced, for which we have paid Rs 80 crore. Both, those who are selling cow dung and those who are producing vermicompost are getting money from the government. More than 8 lakh quintal vermicompost has been sprayed in the fields of Chhattisgarh. The response that we have received from this scheme is tremendous. We are now moving towards using cow dung to produce electricity, the benefit of which will be received by the villagers.
Q: How do you intend to administer Chhattisgarh when you will be placed in UP for the next few months?
A: Koi dikkat nahee hoga (No problems will arise). It is not that I will have to stay there for months. I will go and come back; UP is not far from Chhattisgarh.
Q: Issues involving IPS officers of Chhattisgarh (G.P. Singh, Mukesh Gupta) have generated a lot of news about the state at the national level. Don’t you think such incidents by officers create a negative image about your administration?
A: The matters are in court and I don’t think they will make any difference to the image of the administration.
Q: How would you describe the Naxal situation in the state?
A: We have managed to push them (back) significantly in the last few years. We have opened camps in the Marh (Abujmarh) area. The benefits of the government scheme are now also going to people of that area, something which was considered impossible till recently.
Q: Are you getting the required support from the Central government, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on this issue?
A: I am the chairperson of the unified command in the state. We are working jointly and in a coordinated manner. If some issues arise, we resolve it.
Q: Will you be carrying out a Cabinet reshuffle or is it done now?
A: I have no intention of carrying out a reshuffle in the near future.