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Bhupesh Baghel among 6 Chhattisgarh leaders in Congress’s first list for LS polls

RAIPUR: The Congress put its faith in its senior leadership in Chhattisgarh in the first list for Lok Sabha candidates, with three former ministers including former chief minister Bhupesh Baghel among the six candidates announced on Friday evening.

Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel (Ayush Sharma)

Senior Congress party leaders said that they hoped that the heft of its senior leaders would help the party regain lost ground in the state, where they currently hold only two of the 11 Lok Sabha seats on offer, and suffered a debilitating defeat in the assembly elections in December 2023, when they won only 35 seats in a 90 member assembly.

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Apart from Baghel, the other five candidates declared by the Congress on Friday are former state home minister Tamradhwaj Sahu who will fight from Mahasamund, former urban affairs minister Shivkumar Dahariya from Janjgir Champa, sitting MP Jyotsana Mahant and the wife of leader of opposition Charandas Mahant from Korba, former MLA Vikas Upadhyaya from Raipur, and newcomer Rajendra Sahu from Durg.

Baghel will contest from Rajnandgaon, once the seat of former three-time chief minister and now assembly speaker Raman Singh.

This is the third time Baghel will contest parliamentary elections after he contested from Durg in 2004 and Raipur in 2009, losing on both occasions.

Senior Congress leaders said that Baghel’s name had been picked after extensive deliberations, with the Congress high command keen for prominent leaders to contest the elections. The decision to shift to Rajnandgaon from his home district of Durg, leaders said, was also considered, with the Congress winning five of the eight assembly segments in 2023, despite losses elsewhere in the state. “We won five seats in Rajnandgaon and Bhupesh ji’s image is very positive in rural Chhattisgarh. Rajnandgaon is predominantly a rural seat. We are hoping that Baghel’s candidature galvanises the cadre, and helps us across the 11 seats,” the leader said. The BJP has already announced its candidate for the Rajnandgaon seat, with sitting MP Santosh Pandey in the fray again.

Hours before the list was released, Baghel said on Friday: “If the party decides that I have to fight, I will follow the high command.”

Political experts however said that despite the emphasis on party heavyweights, the Congress has an uphill task ahead. Harsh Dubey, a Chhattisgarh-based political commentator said, “There is a Modi influence in Chhattisgarh, but it seems that the way the Congress has decided to combat this is to bank on senior leaders. It seems difficult but we can now expect some more senior names in the next list.”

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