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Bhupesh Baghel – Congress’ OBC Posterboy

Posted by Aditya Singh on February 13, 2019 | Comment

Bhupesh Baghel- Congress' OBC Posterboy

Bhupesh Baghel is more of a grounded party worker than a leader. A very few knew about Mr Baghel before the Chattisgarh Assembly polls last year. He is a hardworking organizational worker who helped to rebuild the party in the state after the 2013 Sukma Naxal attack. The attack left the Chattisgarh State Congress destroyed as many of its senior leaders, including state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior party leader Mahendra Karma, was killed.

Former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi quit the party before the Chattisgarh assembly elections as he was continuously accused by the fellow party members of acting as the ‘B Team’ of Raman Singh. This placed Bhupesh Baghel at the forefront of the party leadership in the state. Mr. Baghel belongs to the influential Kurmi (Other Backward Class) community which accounts for the 14% of the state population of around 2.5 crores. The OBC community constitutes 45% of the state population. So far, the Congress party banked on tribal seats in the state. But this time they were able to snatch a significant share of Kurmi votes in their favour. On results day, the Congress party was able to form the government in the state with a landslide victory.

Congress’s search for a Kurmi leader seems to have ended in Baghel. Kurmis also play a decisive role in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. Apna Dal, a primary Kurmi political outfit, had won two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It was part of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government. With 4% vote-share, the Kurmi community is spread in the districts of the central and eastern regions of the state. Apna Dal also has sizable support in the region around Varanasi. Congress is eyeing to gain support in this region through Baghel.

If Congress promotes Bhupesh Baghel as its leading OBC leader, it can break off NDA’s Kurmi and Koeri vote bank. His face can come as a boost for the party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as party is devoid of any prominent face in the state. Rahul Gandhi is very well aware of the fact. Thus, Baghel is being used in the caste-equation driven states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Upendra Kushwaha of Rashtriya Lok Samta Party has entered the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. He offers a significant sum of Koeri voters to the side. Bhupesh Baghel would be then helpful for the Mahagathbandhan to woo Kurmi voters in Bihar. It is to be noted that the community constitutes over 5% of the state population. He can also be roped in for party rallies in Bihar.

The Congress could not produce any strong OBC leader in Madhya Pradesh also. Historically, the grand old party’s CMs in MP since 1956 were either Brahmins or belonged to a feudal class. The OBC community has its strong presence in Rajasthan too.  Bhupesh Baghel will also be used in the party rallies in both these states.

It is certain that the Congress Party may use Mr Baghel extensively to mobilise the backward Kurmi community in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bhupesh Baghel is an organizational worker who can help resurrect the poor polling machinery in Uttar Pradesh. He sustained improved booth management and transparent ticket distribution in the Chattisgarh Assembly elections last year. He can certainly offer his organizational and booth management skills in other states as well. He helped the Congress party to rise like a phoenix, born out of its ashes, in Chattisgarh. Now it is time for him to play a major role at the national level to help Congress party revive in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections 2019.