If Cong wins in Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel will be ‘first in line’ for CM post: T S Singhdeo

New Delhi:  Chhattisgarh Deputy Chief Minister TS Singhdeo on Sunday said the Congress would fight the assembly polls under a “collective leadership” helmed by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and if the party wins, Baghel would be “first in line” to be considered for the CM’s post.

In an interview with PTI, Singhdeo said if an incumbent chief minister has not been removed, it means the party maintains its belief in that person being able to lead the team to victory and after the win “why should the captain be changed”.

He also predicted the Congress was likely to bag another resounding mandate in the 90-member assembly, saying some are projecting 75-plus seats for his party but his estimate is anywhere between 60 to 75-plus. The Congress had won 68 seats in the 2018 assembly polls.

Asked if tensions between Baghel and him are a thing of the past after he was made the deputy chief minister last month, Singhdeo said, “There was no real bitterness or enmity, we (Baghel and him) were working together. There was this issue of time sharing, two-and-a-half years, I think that was weighing on our minds as well as on the minds of everybody associated with the two of us. That time has gone by. Even when those matters were in discussion, we were still performing to the best of our ability.” On whether he felt a sense of betrayal for not getting two-and-a-half years as the chief minister, he said, “I don’t see it as a betrayal. I see it as a decision which the high command takes, it is their call. I cannot become the chief minister, it is the high command, on the feedback it has, that gives designated roles to all of us.” “There is no betrayal as it is the call which the high command has to take and we abide by it,” Singhdeo added.

Asked whether he being made the deputy CM was a climb down from an earlier position or a progression, Singhdeo said he was, on protocol, already the number two in the cabinet.

“We have these official protocols. So the CM had given me the protocol after him. He was number one and I was number 2 and Tamradhwaj Sahu ji was number 3 etc. There were 13 of us including the chief minister. I am still number 2 with an added designation. I am the Deputy CM, so I am sure a lot of people would be seeing it as a step up,” he said.

“I was one of the ministers in the cabinet. Now I am one of the ministers who is also designated Deputy CM. I am grateful to the party, very grateful to the party high command and Bhupesh bhai because with the consent and blessings of all, it would have happened,” he told PTI over phone.

On whether all the issues were a thing of the past and the party were united in Chhattisgarh, Singhdeo claimed the leaders were united earlier as well.

“The issue (two-and-a-half years each CM tenure) was coming up repeatedly in the press so there was definitely that strain. It was difficult for Bhupesh bhai to reply all the time. It was very difficult for me to keep trying to reply to either the media or our associates (as to) when is it going to happen, what is going to happen, is there this two-and-a-half years thing, so it did weigh on us, certainly,” the Congress leader said.

Now there are no two-and-a-half years, only four-five months are left for the elections, he noted and added the situation that existed earlier does not exist anymore.

On whether he was actually promised a two-and-a-half years in the CM’s post, Singhdeo said there are many discussions that take place behind closed doors.

“The high command has never said anything about this two and a half years (tenure) so I am in no position to make any comment. One has to maintain the dignity of discussions that take place behind closed doors” Singhdeo said.

Asked whether the polls would be fought under a “collective leadership”, Singhdeo said the decision taken on June 28, when the leaders from the state met the party top brass here, was that the polls will be “fought on a collective leadership which Bhupesh Baghel ji would lead”.

“That is the situation and obviously if we win under the situation, he (Baghel) would be first in line to be considered for the chief minister,” Singhdeo said.

Pressed further on his remark that Baghel will be first in line to be CM, the Chhattisgarh Deputy Chief Minister said, “Certainly. If you are the incumbent chief minister, for one you have not been removed, so the party maintains its belief in your being able to lead the team to victory and after you win, why should the captain be changed.” Asked whether he would also continue in the Deputy CM post if the Congress wins, Singhdeo said that is all for the high command to decide.

“Whatever responsibility they designate, we will accept them and we should accept them with full grace,” he said.

He asserted the government has performed well on many parameters.

There may be some shortcomings in terms of perceived promises which may not have been fulfilled but by and large the government has done quite well, he said.

“I would give a seven out of 10 rating and very good chances of coming back to governance again,” Singhdeo said.

Asked about the anti-incumbency factor, the Congress leader said anti-incumbency would have been there if there would have been lack of performance.

“Where there is performance then the sense of anti-incumbency is not there. There has been performance on the front of the farmers, the forest dwellers, education, English medium schools, electricity concession, many initiatives in the urban areas too. In health, we have done quite well,” he said.

Asked if he would be fighting the polls from Ambikapur again, Singhdeo said if the constituents of his seat would want him to contest then that would be his first priority and he would seek their views on that.

“I am in the process of doing that. Then the party has to accept me as the candidate, if they give me the ticket. First are the voters in the constituency and then the party. If both are there, then one will think of contesting, certainly” he said.

Asked that with the captain and vice captain decided, is the team set to win the finals, Singhdeo said it is not just the captain and vice captain, it is the entire team.

“We have all the other senior players, all the other party workers, we have to do it together, like we did it last time. The more we do it together, the more success there will be,” he said.

Singhdeo was appointed deputy chief minister last month. He and Chief Minister Baghel had been engaged in a power tussle since the party came to power in the state in 2018.

There was talk throughout the tenure that party leadership had promised that he and Baghel would hold the chief minister’s post alternately for two-and-a-half years each. However, the party leadership never publicly said anything on this.

The Congress is seeking to retain power in Chhattisgarh and is projecting unity in the party unit.