When Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel met Union home minister Amit Shah recently, the latter was well aware of the cases the state government is investigating against the previous regime. “Bhupesh you must not spare any corrupt BJP leader,” Shah seems to have advised him, tongue in cheek, to which Baghel kept quiet. It is an indication that the BJP leaders have been complaining against Baghel to their party high command and that Baghel’s confrontational strategies have caught Shah’s attention.
Over 15 years in the opposition has made Baghel a street fighter, like much of the BJP rank and file used to be pre-2014. His natural inclination is towards confrontation. His government’s demand for Rs 2,500 as the minimum support price (MSP) per quintal for paddy procurement has led him into another bout with the Union government. The Congress had promised in its manifesto to procure paddy at that price. The Raman Singh government had paid an average of Rs 2,050 in 2018, including a bonus of Rs 300. Baghel had managed to pay another bonus amount of Rs 450 in January this year, which caused a burden of Rs 7,500 crore on the exchequer.
The Centre has announced an MSP of Rs 1,800 for paddy this year. After procuring some 80 lakh tonne paddy, 40 lakh tonne of rice is ready after custom milling. Of this, the Centre has a commitment to take 20 lakh tonne or pay 50% of the procurement price minus the bonus. The Centre has refused to procure it this year, claiming it already has a surplus in the Central pool. It would mean the state government is left with the bill for the entire stock at Rs 2,500 per quintal.
So what does Baghel do? He has asked the Youth Congress to gherao every BJP MP’s house and play the nagada, a local drum. He has collected some 13.5 lakh letters from farmers demanding procurement price of Rs 2,500 and deposited them at the governor’s doorstep. He has even got the governor Anusuiya Uikey to recommend to the Centre that the demand is fair. So far, the Centre has not responded and the procurement date of December 1st is less than a week away.