The BJP central leadership on Sunday picked tribal politician and former Union minister Vishnu Deo Sai for the post of Chhattisgarh chief minister, ignoring the claims of the party’s tallest leader in the state, former chief minister Raman Singh.
Raman, a three-term chief minister, may be given the “consolation post” of Speaker of the Assembly, party sources said.
Along with a tribal chief minister, the new government will also have two deputy chief ministers — one an OBC and the other an upper caste — to get the caste matrix right ahead of next year’s general election, the sources added.
They said that Chhattisgarh BJP president Arun Sao (OBC) and Vijay Sharma (Brahmin), both elected as MLAs, will be the two deputy chief ministers.
The 59-year-old Sai’s elevation appears an indication that the BJP central leadership intends to similarly sideline party satraps in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and promote new faces.
A meeting of the BJP’s newly elected MLAs in Madhya Pradesh is scheduled for Monday to elect the chief minister. Here, current chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who has ruled the state for most of the last 18 years barring a year’s gap, could be replaced.
In Rajasthan, the central leadership wants to bypass the claims of former chief minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia. The meeting to elect a new legislature party leader is likely on Tuesday.
Vasundhara, however, put up a show of strength on Sunday with a section of the newly elected MLAs — her known “loyalists” — meeting her in Jaipur.
The choice of Sai, elected from the Kunkuri (ST) seat, was said to be “unanimous” at the meeting of the new MLAs in Raipur on Sunday. However, this was a mere formality after the central leadership had selected him.
Raman proposed Sai’s name, which was seconded by Sao and Sharma, the likely deputy chief ministers.
Union home minister Amit Shah had provided an indication last month when he promised to make Sai a “big man”.
“Ensure his victory and we will make him a bada aadmi,” Shah had told a poll rally in Sai’s constituency.
Sai is believed to be imbued deeply with the saffron ideology. A four-term Lok Sabha member and an MLA for the third time now, he was junior minister for steel in the first Narendra Modi government. He has good organisational understanding, having served as Chhattisgarh BJP chief.
“As chief minister, I shall try to fulfil Prime Minister Modi’s guarantees,” Sai said after his election by the legislature party.
Sai will be only the second tribal chief minister of Chhattisgarh since the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000. Tribal people make up more than 32 per cent of the state’s population.
The late Congress leader Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of the state, was a tribal politician. After him, the BJP ruled the state for three straight terms, led by the upper caste Raman Singh.
The BJP’s emphatic victory this time, with 54 of the state’s 90 seats, was powered by its sweep of the ST reserved seats. The elevation of Sai appears a bid to hold on to the tribal support in the run-up to the general election.
Party insiders said the central leadership had initially been in two minds whether to have a tribal politician or an OBC as chief minister. The state has a strong OBC presence. The previous chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel of the Congress, is an OBC.
“The party, however, has taken care of all the key sections by having a tribal chief minister and two deputy chief ministers, one an OBC and the other a general caste,” a BJP leader said.
Party insiders indicated that deputy chief ministers may be appointed also in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to take care of the caste dynamics.
“Best wishes to Kunkuri MLA and tribal leader Shri @vishnudsai ji on getting the responsibility...I havefull confidence that under your leadership, we all will be successful...,” Raman posted on X.