The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) clinched victory in Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections, the counting for which concluded on Sunday, 3 December.
While the BJP won 54 seats, the Congress trailed behind with 35 seats.
The question on everyone's mind – who will be the next chief minister? Here is a look at all the CM probables in Chhattisgarh.
Arun Sao is the son of senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Abhayram Sao. He was born and raised in the Mungeli district, and he followed in his father's footsteps by joining the RSS.
In his early days, the Chhattisgarh BJP President was actively involved with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students' organisation associated with the RSS. In 1996, Sao joined the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and received his maiden Lok Sabha ticket in 2019, winning from Bilaspur with over 1,40,000 votes against the Congress candidate.
Since the formation of Chhattisgarh in 2000, the BJP has mostly relied on tribal leaders like Nandkumar Sai, Shivpratap Singh, Ramsevak Paikra, and Vikram Usendi to lead the state unit, with the exception of Sao, who was appointed state unit president in August 2022 to counter the Other Backward Class (OBC) politics of Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, who belongs to the OBC Sahu community.
The OBCs make up about half of the state's population, and their support for the Congress assured its win in the 2018 Assembly elections.
Chhattisgarh's former and longest-serving chief minister, Raman Singh, who fell from the spotlight after the 2018 Congress victory, is also a probable CM candidate.
During his time in power, the 71-year-old politician gained the moniker "Chaaur wale baba" for giving cheap rice to the poor for Rs 2-3 per kg.
Singh contested from his stronghold of Rajnandgaon against Girish Devangan of the Congress, who is the chairman of the Chhattisgarh Mining Corporation.
Devangan belongs to the OBC weaving community, which has a substantial representation in Rajnandgaon. Singh has won three times from the same constituency.
OP Choudhary, a Chhattisgarh-cadre IAS officer of the 2005 batch who ran against INC's Prakash Shakrajeet Naik in Raigarh, is also a potential CM candidate.
The former civil servant turned politician has a 23,142-vote lead over Naik.
Choudhary joined the BJP in 2018 after leaving the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) after a 13-year career.
He was reportedly enrolled in the party at the behest of former Chief Minister Raman Singh, amid rumours that he could be appointed as a minister if the BJP wins the election.
However, Choudhary's political career began with the worst possible start, with him losing by nearly 17,000 votes to the Congress's Umesh Patel from the Kharsia assembly seat in Raigarh district, and the saffron party only securing 15 of the state's 90 seats, with the remaining 68 seats going to the Congress.
Despite having won no elections till date, Choudary is popular and credited with the establishment of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Education City in the Maoist-affected district of Dantewada. This large academic facility grew during his stint as Dantewada's district magistrate between 2011 and 2013.
Under the UPA government, his work on educational initiatives won him the Prime Minister's Excellence in Public Administration Award for 2011-12. After an FIR was filed against Choudhary for sharing an alleged fake video of coal theft in the Korba district, the Chhattisgarh BJP staged a protest against the state government in June 2022.
Vijay Baghel, a BJP lawmaker from Durg, is trailing his uncle, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, in Patan. This is not the first time the Baghels have clashed in elections, with them being opponents in 2003, 2008, and 2013.
Bhupesh won two of three campaigns, but Vijay defeated him by 7,842 votes in 2008.
Vijay won his Durg Lok Sabha seat by over three lakh votes in 2019, only six months into Bhupesh's first term as CM. Vijay had secured almost 30,000 votes in Patan alone.
Despite Bhupesh Baghel's track record of five consecutive Patan wins since 1993, the BJP MP's popularity in Durg and among the youth makes him a formidable contender for the CM seat if he wins.
Both Baghels are Kurmis, a strong OBC caste in the state who, along with Sahus, account for 36 percent of the population.
Vishnu Deo Sai
Vishnu Deo Sai, the BJP's tribal face in the state, is also a possible candidate for the CM position. Sai's political career began when he was elected unopposed as Sarpanch of Bagia village.
The Raigarh constituency is represented by the 59-year-old leader, who is also a fourth-term MP. He was also the former Union Minister of State for Steel and is the state's sole representative to be sworn in as a minister in the Modi administration.
Sai, who was also the former state president of the saffron party from 2020 to August 2022, is a close ally of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh. He was also a member of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly for two consecutive terms, from 1990 to 1998, before the state was partitioned.