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Chhattisgarh Congress ‘Like Family’, Bhupesh Baghel Will Be First Choice For CM: Deputy CM T S Singhdeo

Elections to the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly will be held in two phases—November 7 and 17.

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Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel
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Asserting that the Congress' Chhattisgarh unit was united "like a family", Deputy Chief Minister T S Singhdeo on Sunday said Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel would be "first in line" to get the top post if the party wins the assembly polls and that any decision taken by the high command would be acceptable to all.

Singhdeo, who has been fielded again from the Ambikapur constituency, said both Baghel and him saw a period of "great pressure" from their respective supporters amid the media talk of two-and-a-half years of split tenure of chief ministership but they never let that affect governance in any way, reported PTI.

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Singhdeo said he would be disappointed if the Congress does not get a two-thirds majority in the assembly polls on the back of a slew of welfare measures in just a span of five years.

Singhdeo slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for accusing the Congress government of corruption, saying it is very sad that people at the highest levels of elected governance are making allegations.

"They have every opportunity to have action taken. A prime minister or a home minister is not expected to make allegations. You have the machinery in place at the national level that goes into these inquiries. Why have they not made these inquiries?" he said.

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Singhdeo said making allegations at that level is most unfortunate and it does not behove the stature of the position of the prime minister or the home minister.

Asked about the talk of a rift between him and Chief Minister Baghel during the tenure of the government in the last five years, Singhdeo said there were no differences as such.

"The whole issue was there in the media, the matter of sharing (the CM's post) for two-and-a-half years each and that created a lot of pressure for both of us. My workers and associates were ringing me up, more than 100 calls I was having to answer...saying it is for the high command to decide, it is their call, there is nothing that I am aware of etc," the deputy chief minister said.

"It was a period of great pressure for us," he said, adding that there was no instance where governance had been affected.

"Even when this was being perceived among the people, we never allowed it to show in public, in interpersonal behaviour or otherwise in the way departments were running, which were running fairly smoothly, we had been achieving targets greater than that were given to us, so there was nothing beyond that," he told PTI over phone from Ambikapur.

On whether the party's state unit was united, Singhdeo said, "Yes, like any family is. We all have families, we have parents, husband and wife relationships, we have relationships between siblings, relationships between friends...is it always absolutely smooth? It is never always smooth, it is part of human nature that once in a while there might be something and we have to have the maturity to see that the relationship works and becomes stronger," the 70-year-old Congress leader said.

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Asked about the Congress not declaring a CM face but incumbent Chief Minister Baghel being the frontrunner, Singhdeo said, "He (Baghel) will certainly be first in line. These are decisions taken by the high command and whatever decision the high command takes, we will all abide by it."

Singhdeo further said that what has been decided in terms of the elections so far is that the joint leadership will be leading the election campaign with CM Baghel heading the team.

Pressed further if Baghel will be first in line if the Congress wins, Singhdeo said, "Most certainly. That is the way usually things are."

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On whether he would accept being deputy chief minister again, Singhdeo said whatever the decision the high command takes, he will abide by it.

Singhdeo hailed the ticket distribution by the Congress in Chhattisgarh as "bold and just".

Noting that things are never 100 per cent or absolutely alright in any party or setup, he said the Congress has done well to counter what could have been seen as anti-incumbency.

"We were able to give tickets to 20 per cent women so that is a very big plus. There are youngsters. We tried to balance as far as possible between winnability and social equations. It is very tough but I think the Congress has done very well in selecting its candidates," he said.

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Singhdeo also batted for a caste survey, noting that Rahul Gandhi has already announced that if the Congress comes back to government there will be an OBC survey.

"So we will certainly be having a caste survey. It gives you the basis on which you can target and pinpoint which section of society needs most from the government," he said.

Asked how the Congress would tackle the aggressive campaign by the prime minister, Singhdeo said, "Mr Modi is not fighting for the chief minister's responsibility or the governance of Chhattisgarh. We have not seen Mr. Modi in Chhattisgarh in almost all of the last five years."

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"It is just before elections that they (central leadership of BJP) come, either in Lok Sabha elections or just before assembly polls. Their presence is poll related, they are not state-centric leaders seen by the voters here because they do not participate in the day-to-day governance of the state," he said.

Singhdeo said the top BJP leaders come, they campaign, have an aura, charisma, people come and listen, but when they vote, the mature voter sees who is going to deliver and Modi is not here to deliver in the state.

Singhdeo also said that this may probably be his last election.

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"This was a time when I was thinking that the next generation should step in but our workers were of the firm opinion that not this time. So I heeded their advice, their demand, their judgement, and decided to contest," he said.

Asked for his prediction as to how many seats the Congress would win, Singhdeo said he would be disappointed if the party did not get a two-thirds majority.

"I would be personally very disappointed if we do not have two-thirds which is 60 out of 90 seats. Many seniors in the Congress are looking at 75 plus, we are at 71, so another four seats," he said.

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Singhdeo said the reason for this confidence is that the party has performed very well on the ground in terms of governance. 

"I have seen at least 10-12 governments in between, of both parties, and in a five-year span the amount of work that we have been able to deliver,  I have not seen that happening, frankly, even once," he said.

Singhdeo cited the high prices for agricultural produce in the country being in Chhattisgarh - the highest price for forest produce, highest price for tendu leaves - and 40 lakh people pulled up over the poverty line, among others, being the government's achievements.

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He also cited electricity generation, new power projects, universal PDS and universal healthcare as the Congress government's achievements in the last five years.

"There is a sense of satisfaction and expectation from the people that they would support us to deliver more in the next few years to come," Singhdeo said.

The Congress registered a landslide victory in the 2018 polls winning 68 seats, and comfortably formed the government. The BJP was reduced to 15 seats, while the JCC (J) and the BSP bagged five and two seats, respectively. The current strength of the Congress is 71.

The Congress has set a target of winning 75 seats this time.

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Elections to the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly will be held in two phases -- November 7 and 17. The results would be announced on December 3.
 

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