The BJP on Sunday picked Vishnu Deo Sai, a prominent tribal leader, as the next chief minister of Chhattisgarh, ending the suspense over who will helm the state which the saffron party wrested from Congress in recent polls.
Sai (59) was elected as the BJP's legislative party leader at a meeting of 54 newly-elected MLAs held at the party's state headquarters here in the afternoon, a party functionary said.
In the evening, Chhattisgarh Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan invited Sai to form a government and handed him a letter pertaining to his appointment as the Chief Minister after the BJP submitted a letter formally staking a claim.
The swearing-in ceremony of the new chief minister may take place on December 12 or 13 as per the availability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a senior BJP leader said.
“We have handed over a letter to the Governor stating that Sai ji has been elected as the legislative party leader,” senior BJP MLA Brijmohan Agrawal told reporters after a delegation of BJP MLAs led by Sai met the governor.
BJP's state president Arun Sao stated in the letter that Sai has been elected the leader of the BJP's legislative party by the MLAs and staked a claim to form the government, a statement issued by the Raj Bhavan said.
The governor congratulated Sai and handed over a letter pertaining to his appointment as the Chief Minister under Article 164 of the Constitution and invited him to form the cabinet, it added.
On the occasion, Union ministers Arjun Munda, Sarbananda Sonowal and Mansukh Mandaviya, BJP's in-charge for Chhattisgarh Om Mathur, newly-elected BJP MLAs and others were present, as per the release.
After visiting Raj Bhavan, Arun Sao told reporters the swearing-in ceremony of Sai may take place on December 12 or 13 as per the availability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Querioed on speculations about the appointment of a deputy chief minister in the state, Sao said the new CM and the party central leadership will decide about it.
Earlier in the day, senior BJP leader Raman Singh had said, ahead of the meeting of MLAs, that the new government may have a deputy chief minister, Sai said he would try to fulfil PM Modi's "guarantees" and sanction 18 lakh houses to the beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojna, who were deprived of the benefits under the erstwhile Congress government, will be the top priority.
BJP's three observers - Union ministers Arjun Munda and Sarbananda Sonowal and party general secretary Dushyant Kumar Gautam - attended the meeting of the MLAs, besides BJP's in-charge for Chhattisgarh Om Mathur, Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya and party's co-in-charge for the state Nitin Nabin.
At the meeting, the proposal to elect Sai as the legislative party leader was moved by former chief minister Raman Singh, which was seconded by Arun Sao and senior leader Brijmohan Agrawal.
Sai thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J P Nadda and other party leaders for reposing faith in him to hold the top post in Chhattisgarh.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, he said fulfilling the promises of the BJP mentioned in the poll manifesto would be the priority of his government.
"As chief minister of Chhattisgarh, I will try to fulfil the BJP's pre-poll promises which are PM Modi's guarantees through the government," Sai said.
“In the five years (of Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government), 18 lakh beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojna were deprived of the benefits under this scheme. Sanctioning 18 lakh houses to these beneficiaries will be the first work (to be done) in the state”, he said.
On the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister (late) Atal Bihari Vajpayee December 25, who was the founder of Chhattisgarh State, a bonus against paddy procurement for two years which was pending during the previous BJP government (2013-2018) will be given to farmers (who had then sold their paddy), Sai added.
He said all the guarantees of Modi Ji and BJP's poll promises will be fulfilled in the next five years.
Sai will be the fourth chief minister of the state. His predecessors included Ajit Jogi (Congress), Raman Singh (BJP) who helmed the state for three consecutive terms starting from 2003 to 2018, and Bhupesh Baghel (Congress) who held the top post from 2018 to December 2023.
Baghel congratulated Sai on being elected as the leader of the BJP’s legislative party.
The BJP won 54 out of the total 90 assembly seats in the recently held elections, reducing Congress' tally to 35. The Gondwana Gantantra Party managed to win one seat.
The CM-designate reached the state guest house ‘Pahuna’ in the evening where he met party workers.
“Indeed, it’s a big responsibility (the CM post) and challenging, but I have full faith that I will continue to get guidance and support from national leadership and all party MLAs. I have discharged whatever responsibilities given by the party to me, and I am confident that this time also, I will discharge the new challenging responsibility similarly,” he said.
When asked whether his appointment to the top post will benefit the party in adjoining tribal-dominated states like Odisha and Jharkhand, Sai said tribals of the country are associated with BJP as they very well know that it is their only well-wisher party.
“Droupadi Murmu ji, who comes from a tribal community, became the President under the BJP regime. A separate tribal development ministry was formed when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was in power. Vajpayee ji was also the founder of Chhattisgarh," he said.
Sai accused the Congress of treating tribals as a vote bank and said the BJP takes care of their welfare.
Later, Sai went to Jai Stambh Chowk in the state capital and paid respect to the statue of Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh, a freedom fighter from the tribal community on his death anniversary.
He was given a warm welcome by his family members and party workers when he reached his residence in Vidhayak Colony.
Sai, a former Union minister who had also served as Chhattisgarh BJP chief, was elected as an MLA from the Kunkuri seat in the state's Surguja division, which was swept by the BJP, in the assembly elections last month.
Overall, the BJP bagged 17 of the 29 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates, a feat that added crucial numbers to its winning tally.
Sai started his political career as a village sarpanch and rose to become a Union minister and a multiple-time Lok Sabha member besides getting important organisational roles.
He hails from a farming family based in a small village, Bagia, in the tribal-dominated Jashpur district.
In 1989, he was elected as a 'panch' of Bagia village panchayat and the next year became the sarpanch unopposed.
It is believed that BJP stalwart late Dilip Singh Judev encouraged Sai to enter electoral politics in 1990. In the same year, Sai was elected as MLA for the first time on a BJP ticket from Tapkara (in Jashpur district) in undivided Madhya Pradesh. He retained the seat in the 1993 assembly polls.
Sai also enjoys a good rapport with RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP.
After the BJP formed its government at the Centre in 2014 under the leadership of PM Modi, Sai was made Minister of State for Steel and Mines.
The tribal politician served as the BJP's Chhattisgarh chief from 2006 to 2010 and again from January to August 2014.
After the BJP lost power in the state in 2018, he was again given the responsibility to lead the party in Chhattisgarh in 2020.
Ahead of the polls in November this year, Sai was named a member of the BJP national executive in July. He was fielded from Kunkuri (Jashpur district) in the elections which he won by defeating Congress' sitting MLA UD Minj by 25,541 votes.
Notably, addressing a poll rally in the Kunkuri constituency last month, Amit Shah had urged voters to elect Sai, promising to make the latter a "big man" if the party comes back to power in the state.
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