Why are Raipur and Durg seats important for Bhupesh Baghel?
New Delhi, April 22: Voting for the third phase of the Lok Sabha polls will be held in Chhattisgarh on Tuesday. The third phase of polling will mark the completion of Lok Sabha elections in the state. A total of 123 candidates are in the fray in seven Lok Sabha seats going to polls in this phase. These are - Raipur, Durg, Bilaspur, Korba, Janjgir-Champa, Surguja and Raigarh.
The first phase covered the Naxal-hit Bastar (ST) constituency on April 11. Three Lok Sabha seats- Kanker, Rajnandgaon, and Mahasamund voted in the second phase on April 18.
Chhattisgarh is one of the states, apart from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the Congress is aiming to win as many Lok Sabha seats as possible. The Congress won these three BJP-ruled states last year.
After the assembly election's drubbing, the BJP has replaced its 10 sitting MPs in Chhattisgarh.
The BJP high-command has directed prominent party leaders like former Chief Minister Dr. Raman Singh, sitting Raipur MP Ramesh Bais, and BJP National General Secretary Saroj Pandey to ensure that the party repeats the success of 2014 elections.
The Congress had won 68 seats in 90-member Legislative Assembly. According to the sources, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has taken responsibility of winning at least seven Lok Sabha seats. for the party.
However, political analysts say that two Lok Sabha seats are personally important for the chief minister as he had lost one seat as a Lok Sabha candidate and on the second seat, his political bête noire and nephew is the BJP candidate. These two seats are Raipur and Durg.
Raipur is the capital of Chhattisgarh and this parliamentary constituency has been the bastion of the BJP. Sitting MP Ramesh Bais won the seat for the first time in 1989. Since then he has represented the seat in the Lok Sabha seven times. In 2014, he defeated Satya Narayan Sharma alias Sattu Bhaiya of the Congress by more than 1.7 lakh votes.
Bhupesh Baghel has fought only one Lok Sabha election. He was made Congress candidate from Raipur Lok Sabha seat in 2009 but despite putting all his efforts and resources he could not win as BJP stalwart Bais had defeated him.
The BJP has replaced Bais and fielded former Raipur Mayor Sunil Soni against current Mayor and Congress candidate Pramod Dubey.
Soni is from Other Backward Class (OBC) is considered close to former Chhattisgarh Minister Brijmohan Agrawal. Congress candidate Dubey is a Brahmin.
A Raipur based source tells One India that though Bhupesh Baghel, a Kurmi, practiced anti-Brahmanism politics all his life but changed its policy before the assembly elections, which has paid him well and has become chief minister.
"Winning Raipur seat will give extra satisfaction to Baghel as he had lost the seat. A changed Baghel is leaving no stone unturned to ensure win of a Brahmin candidate from Raipur. Though there is no credible evidence that he poached the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate from Raipur just before the poll, but there is a debate going on in Raipur 's political circles about the amount involved in poaching. It shows how much importance the Chief Minister is giving to Raipur."
The Congress got a fillip on Friday when BSP candidate from Raipur announced his support to Congress candidate Dubey.
Addressing a press conference with Congress leaders in Raipur, the BSP's Khileshwar Kumar Sahu said he would support the Congress nominee from the seat as he didn't have enough funds and workers.
He also said that he is impressed by the work of Bhupesh Baghel, which put the chief minister in the firing line of the BSP and the BJP.
BSP wrote a letter to the state chief electoral officer demanding that Dubey be barred from contesting the Lok Sabha polls for "horse trading".
BJP state spokesperson and MLA Shivratan Sharma said, "Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel should reveal at what price the deal (to lure Sahu) was struck. Will Baghel set up a special investigation team to probe this?"
The source also said that after this development, former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and his son Amit Jogi will use all their might to defeat the Congress candidate to settle score with Baghel.
Jogi's party Janta Congress Chhattisgarh is not contesting Lok Sabha elections and supporting the BSP.
It is notable that Baghel is credited for the departure of Amit Jogi and Ajit Jogi, who once enjoyed a close relationship with then Congress President Sonia Gandhi, from the Congress.
Amit Jogi was expelled from the Congress, after an audio tape purportedly revealed that the Antagarh Assembly seat bypoll in 2014 was fixed.
Later Ajit Jogi also resigned from the party. The audio tapes contained alleged phone conversations between Ajit Jogi and his son Amit; Dr. Puneet Gupta, son-in-law of former CM Dr Raman Singh; Manturam Pawar, the Congress candidate in the 2014 Antagarh bypoll, and former Jogi loyalists Firoz Siddiqui and Ameen Memon, to "fix" the by-poll.
Jogis see Baghel's hand in poaching their old confidante Siddiqui, who had released the audio tapes.
In February, the Chhattisgarh police registered a first information report (FIR) against Ajit Jogi, Amit Jogi, former PWD minister Rajesh Munat, Dr. Gupta, and Pawar in connection with the Antagarh tapes case.
Jogis have cried political vendetta and alleged Baghel is misusing his administration.
Durg Lok Sabha seat is another seat that is personally important for Bhupesh Baghel.
This is the only seat in Chhattisgarh that the BJP couldn't win in 2014. Congress candidate Tamradhwaj Sahu had defeated BJP's sitting MP Saroj Pandey and ended BJP's hegemony. Before Pandey, Tarachand Sahu won from here for four consecutive terms - from 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004.
The BJP has fielded Vijay Baghel from Durg. Interestingly, Vijay Baghel is the nephew of Bhupesh Baghel and both have been contesting against each other in Patan Assembly seat. Vijay Baghel had defeated his uncle in the 2008 Assembly election from Patan.
The intensity of the rivalry between the two leaders could be gauged by a fact that their supporters have often clashed in the past in Patan, says the source.
The source says that Baghel has also made Durg Lok Sabha seat his prestige issue as losing it would mean double blow to him.
Congress candidate from Durg Pratima Chandrakar is the daughter of Baghel's political guru Vasudev Chandrakar, the tallest Kurmi leader in the state at one time.
Despite Bhupesh Baghel's extensive lobbying, Chandrakar couldn't contest Assembly election from Durg (Rural) last year as her name was withdrawn after giving her ticket and Durg MP Tamradhwaj Sahu was fielded, who later resigned from the Lok Sabha after winning the seat.
The source says that the state machinery has got the message that Baghel would not like to lose Raipur as well as Durg.