“There will be no gunfight. Those who are going to shoot will be shot first. Singhdeo is the MLA of the area, without his consent, let alone trees, not even a branch will be cut.”Bhupesh Baghel
Baghel also slammed the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and asked them to clear their stand on mining issues.
“Coal allocation, environment act, forest act, all the rules are made by the Central government, they only have the right to give all the permissions. Why don’t they, those who are protesting, put their demands in front of the Central government? Even (BJP MLA) Brijmohan Agarwal should demand cancellation of the allotment of the coal blocks,” Baghel further said.
On 6 June, Singhdeo met with the tribals protesting against the coal mining in Chhattisgarh – and sided with them, saying:
“Stand united, and then you can save your land. Stand together and if anyone comes with a gun, I will take the first bullet.”
Shifting Stance of Congress Govt on Coal Mining in Chhattisgarh
The Bhupesh Baghel-led Congress government in Chhattisgarh has been pushing for coal mining despite a prolonged protest by the locals.
In March-April 2022, the Chhattisgarh government gave final approvals for mining in two coal blocks – phase 2 of Parsa East and Kente Basan coal mine, and Parsa open cast coal mine – both located in Hasdeo.
Earlier on 4 June, Baghel had criticised those opposing mining and advised them to first ‘switch off the lights’ of their homes and then protest.
A day later, Singhdeo met with protesters and said that he stands with them and would take a bullet for them if it comes to that. Following this, Baghel changed his stand, and said that no trees will be cut if Singhdeo, who hails from the region, doesn’t consent to it.
While there may have been bad waters between Baghel and Singhdeo, the two Congress stalwarts of Chhattisgarh, experts believe that the recent congruence on mining might be the change that Rahul Gandhi had hinted at a few days back.
Gandhi, while answering a question on coal mining and the Congress government’s stand during an event at the Cambridge University in London in May 2022, had said that he has a problem with the current situation and that he is working on it within the party.
Parivesh Mishra, a political commentator from Chhattisgarh, says the change of stand towards tribal protests and rights will prove to be a face-saver for the Congress in Chhattisgarh as well as for the Central leadership.
"The entire thread of statements since Rahul Gandhi said that he is unhappy with what's happening in Chhattisgarh with regard to coal mining and tribal rights indicates that the project might get shelved. The change of stand might help both the Chhattisgarh government and the Congress' Central leadership to save face as well as tap the tribal vote bank. More immediate result will be in the Gujarat Assembly elections followed by Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh."Parivesh Mishra
A senior journalist from Chhattisgarh, who did not wish to be named, says:
“This is a positive thing for the tribals' protest against coal mining. It seems whatever Rahul Gandhi was planning is bearing fruit. The two top leaders of the government siding with the tribals is the evidence of it. We might see some drastic change in the coming future where coal mining and tribal rights are concerned”.