Amidst opposition bonhomie, Congress CMs in Hindi heartland sworn-in
Congress veterans Ashok Gehlot, Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel were on Monday sworn in as new Chief Ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, ending BJPs rule in the Hindi heartland.
The occasions were marked by opposition bonhomie, with a host of prominent opposition leaders sharing the stage with Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Coming days after leaders of 21 opposition parties on December 10 resolved to work together to "defeat the BJP-RSS", the swearing-in ceremonies turned into a platform to showcase the opposition unity ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
However, Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Akhilesh Yadav-headed Samajwadi Party -- both of which supported the Congress in government formation in Madhya Pradesh -- were conspicuous by their absence.
Gehlot, along with his deputy Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan, Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh and Baghel in Chhattisgarh were administered the oath of office and secrecy by the Governors in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a number of opposition leaders.
Among those present from the "anti-BJP camp" included NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, former Prime Minister and JD(S) supremo H.D. Deve Gowda, NC patriarch Farooq Abdullah, LJD leader Sharad Yadav, and DMK leaders M.K. Stalin and Kanimozhi.
The RJD was represented by Tejashwi Yadav, Trinamool Congress by former Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha chief Babulal Marandi as well as AAP leader Sanjay Singh were among those present.
Congress General Secretary and former Union Minister Gehlot took over the reins of Rajasthan for the third time, while Sachin, who won his maiden Assembly elections, is Gehlot's "co-pilot" after being sworn in as the Deputy Chief Minister.
Riding on huge anti-incumbency against the Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the Congress with farm loan waiver as its major poll plank came to power in the state winning 99 of the 199 seats at stake.
In Bhopal, nine-time MP and former Union Minister Kamal Nath became Madhya Pradesh's 18th Chief Minister, on a day the Delhi High Court convicted Congress leader Sajjan Kumar in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, prompting attacks from the BJP which alleges Kamal Nath's involvement in the riots in the national capital.
With the BJP and ally Shiromani Akali Dal attacking the Congress for its choice in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath responded to the charges alleging "politics" behind the attacks.
"I took oath in 1991 and several times after that, no one said anything. There is no case, FIR, or charge-sheet against me. Today they are raking up this matter. You can understand the politics behind this," said Kamal Nath.
Credited with steering the party to victory in the saffron stronghold, Kamal Nath, immediately after assuming power, cleared files for waiving loans of farmers to the tune of Rs 2 lakh each.
With this, the Congress which won won 114 seats in the 230-member House, delivered its pre-poll promise of cancelling farm loans within 10 days of coming to power.
In Raipur, state Congress President Bhupesh Baghel, credited for powering his party to a landslide victory, became the third Chief Minister of the tribal-dominated state
Baghel, who represents Patan Assembly constituency in Durg district, was administered the oath of office and secrecy in the presence of Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and a host of other top Congress leaders.
Besides Baghel, Ambikapur MLA T.S. Singh Deo and Durg Rural lawmaker Tamradhwaj Sahu took oath as ministers.
After the swearing-in ceremony, Gandhi took to Twitter to thank the people of the state and vowed to build a "new Chhattisgarh".
Baghel, had taken over the reins of party nearly a year-and-half after the top state leadership was wiped out in a Maoist attack in 2013, including the then state unit chief Nand Kumar Patel and party veteran Vidya Charan Shukla.
He led from front in scripting the rout of Raman Singh-led BJP which was in power for 15 years, enabling the Congress to win 68 seats in the 90-member Assembly.
With the 2019 Lok Sabha polls only months away, the Congress's victory in the three Hindi heartland states is being perceived as a big boost for the grand old party in taking on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah led BJP.