RAIPUR, Dec 10: The BJP on Sunday picked Vishnu Deo Sai, a prominent tribal leader, as the next chief minister of Chhattisgarh, ending the suspense over who will helm the state which the saffron party wrested from Congress in recent polls.
Sai (59) was elected as the BJP’s legislative party leader during a meeting of 54 newly-elected MLAs held at the party’s state headquarters here in the afternoon, a party functionary said.
After the meeting, a delegation of BJP MLAs led by Sai met governor Biswabhusan Harichandan to stake a claim to form the next government.
“We have handed over a letter to the Governor stating that Sai ji has been elected as the legislative party leader,” senior BJP MLA Brijmohan Agrawal told reporters.
He said the date of the swearing-in ceremony would be informed later.
As a chief minister, Sai said he would try to fulfil PM Modi’s “guarantees” and sanction 18 lakh houses to the beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojna, who were deprived of the benefits under the erstwhile Congress government, will be the top priority.
BJP’s three observers – Union ministers Arjun Munda and Sarbananda Sonowal and party general secretary Dushyant Kumar Gautam – attended the meeting of the MLAs, besides BJP’s in-charge for Chhattisgarh Om Mathur, Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya and party’s co-in-charge for the state Nitin Nabin.
At the meeting, the proposal to elect Sai as the legislative party leader was moved by former chief minister Raman Singh, which was seconded by state BJP president Arun Sao and senior leader Brijmohan Agrawal.
Sai thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J P Nadda and other party leaders for reposing faith in him to hold the top post in Chhattisgarh.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Sai said fulfilling the promises of the BJP mentioned in the poll manifesto would be the priority of his government.
“As chief minister of Chhattisgarh, I will try to fulfil the BJP’s pre-poll promises which are PM Modi’s guarantees through the government,” Sai said.
“In the five years (of Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government), 18 lakh beneficiaries of the PM Awas Yojna were deprived of the benefits under this scheme. Sanctioning 18 lakh houses to these beneficiaries will be the first work (to be done) in the state”, he said.
On the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister (late) Atal Bihari Vajpayee December 25, who was the founder of Chhattisgarh State, a bonus against paddy procurement for two years which was pending during the previous BJP government (2013-2018) will be given to farmers (who had then sold their paddy), Sai said.
“All the guarantees of Modi Ji, BJP’s poll promises, will be fulfilled in the next five years,” he said.
Sai has become the fourth chief minister of the state. His predecessors included Ajit Jogi (Congress), Raman Singh (BJP) who helmed the state for three consecutive terms starting from 2003 to 2018, and Bhupesh Baghel (Congress) who held the top post from 2018 to December 2023.
Baghel congratulated Sai on being elected as the leader of the BJP’s legislative party.
The BJP won 54 out of the total 90 assembly seats in the recently held elections, reducing Congress’ tally to 35. The Gondwana Gantantra Party managed to win one seat.
The former Union minister who had also served as Chhattisgarh BJP chief, Sai was elected as an MLA from the Kunkuri seat in the state’s Surguja division, swept by the BJP which won all 14 segments in the region.
Overall, the BJP bagged 17 of the 29 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates, a feat that added crucial numbers to its winning tally.
This comprehensive win in the tribal turfs contributed to the BJP’s resounding victory in the Assembly polls and return to power in the state after a gap of five years.
Sai started his political career as a village sarpanch and rose to become a Union minister and a multiple-time Lok Sabha member besides getting important organisational roles.
The newly-elected MLA from Jashpur district in the Surguja region perfectly fits in the BJP’s scheme of things since Adivasis account for nearly 32 per cent of Chhattisgarh’s population and are the second most dominant social group after OBCs.
Sai hails from a farming family based in a small village, Bagia, in the tribal-dominated Jashpur district.
He studied in a government school in Kunkuri and went to Ambikapur for graduation but quit studies midway and returned to his village in 1988. In 1989, he was elected as a ‘panch’ of Bagia village panchayat and the next year became the sarpanch unopposed.
It is believed that BJP stalwart late Dilip Singh Judev encouraged Sai to enter electoral politics in 1990. In the same year, Sai was elected as MLA for the first time on a BJP ticket from Tapkara (in Jashpur district) in undivided Madhya Pradesh. He retained the seat in the 1993 assembly polls.
In 1998, Sai unsuccessfully contested the Assembly polls from the adjoining Pathalgaon seat. Later, he was elected as MP from Raigarh Lok Sabha constituency four times in a row – 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.
Though the BJP fielded him in the 2003 and 2008 Assembly elections from Pathalgaon in Chhattisgarh, which came into existence as a separate state on November 1, 2000, he lost on both occasions.
After the BJP formed its government at the Centre in 2014 under the leadership of PM Modi, Sai was made Minister of State for Steel and Mines.
The tribal politician served as the BJP’s Chhattisgarh chief from 2006 to 2010 and again from January to August 2014.
After the BJP lost power in the state in 2018, he was again given the responsibility to lead the party in Chhattisgarh in 2020.
He was replaced with Arun Sao, an OBC leader, in 2022, just a year ahead of the Assembly polls.
Ahead of the polls in November this year, Sai was named a member of the BJP national executive in July. He was fielded from Kunkuri (Jashpur district) in the elections which he won by defeating Congress’ sitting MLA UD Minj by a margin of 25,541 votes.
Notably, addressing a poll rally in the Kunkuri constituency last month, Amit Shah had urged voters to elect Sai, promising to make the latter a “big man” if the party comes back to power in the state. (PTI)