Bhupesh Baghel, who was getting ready to continue as the chief minister of Chhattisgarh after exit polls predicted a Congress victory, suffered a setback as the BJP wrested the state from the hands of the grand old party.
The Congress leader, who resigned as the chief minister Sunday night after the poll results were declared, emerged victorious in the Patan assembly seat, defeating BJP candidate Vijay Baghel by 19,723 votes in the state assembly elections held last month.
Baghel, who became the CM in 2018, has emerged as one of the most formidable state-level leaders of the Congress in the last five years.
With his welfare schemes, invocation of regional pride and astute political skills which helped him overcome challenges from within the party, he became the face of the Congress ahead of the 2023 assembly polls.
People fondly call him `kaka’ (uncle), and “kaka abhi zinda hai” (kaka is still alive) has been Baghel’s favourite punchline during public speeches.
After the Congress lost assembly elections in Chhattisgarh for the third time in a row in 2013, Baghel was made its state unit chief.
The party had suffered a devastating blow a few months earlier when several of its state leaders were killed in the Jhiram valley Naxal attack of May 2013.
Along with then leader of opposition in the assembly T S Singh Deo, Baghel rebuilt the party in Chhattisgarh.
When the Congress swept to power in 2018, Baghel emerged as winner in the race for the chief minister’s post, leaving behind rivals like Singh Deo, Charan Das Mahant and Tamradhwaj Sahu.
In 2023, though the Congress did not declare any chief ministerial candidate, its campaign revolved around him.
After becoming the chief minister five years ago, Baghel cultivated his image as a ‘son of the soil’.
The schemes rolled out by his government for farmers, tribal communities and the poor played a major role in increasing his popularity.
Baghel was also one of the first leaders from the state to tap the sentiment of regional pride, talking about `Chhattisgarhiyawaad’ and promoting regional festivals, sports, arts and culture.
When his father Nand Kumar Baghel allegedly made derogatory remarks about a so-called upper caste community, Bhupesh Baghel promptly had him arrested and said nobody was above law under this government.
During the campaign, Congress leaders tried to encash Baghel’s popularity. Unlike other regional Congress leaders, Baghel did not shy away from criticising Prime Miniter Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The BJP, for its part, targeted him over corruption and alleged that Chhattisgarh had become an “ATM” (source of funds) for the Congress.
Just before the elections, he was targeted over the alleged Mahadev betting app scandal, but he fought back claiming that the central probe agencies were being misused by the BJP for harassing its rivals.
Baghel was born into a Kurmi farmer family in Durg district on August 23, 1961. The Kurmis, an influential OBC community, account for around 14 per cent of the state’s population of around 2.5 crore.
He entered politics in the 1980s and was first elected to the assembly of the then undivided Madhya Pradesh from Patan in 1993. He won the seat in 1998 and 2003 too.
In the 2008 assembly elections, he was defeated by BJP’s Vijay Baghel. He also lost to BJP’s Ramesh Bais from Raipur Lok Sabha seat in 2009.
But he reclaimed the Patan assembly seat in 2013 and won from there again in 2018.
After the formation of Chhattisgarh state in 2000, he served as revenue minister in the Ajit Jogi government (2000-2003).
Baghel’s leadership faced a serious challenge in 2021 when the followers of his cabinet colleague T S Singh Deo claimed that the party had agreed to make Singh Deo chief minister after two-and-half years.
But Baghel easily established that most of the MLAs were with him.
A small concession was made to Singh Deo when he was made deputy chief minister in June 2023, months before the polls. He claimed that he had never talked about any agreement about sharing the CM’s post.
Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Telegraph Online staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.