Ajit Jogi: king, king-maker or irrelevant force in Chhattisgarh?
Har aadmi mein hote hain dus-bees aadmi
Jisko bhi dekhna ho kai baar dekhna
Legendary Urdu poet Nida Fazli's words ring very true when it comes to former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi. There are many aspects to his personality that need different frames of reference to be examined.
Jogi, a protege of late Congress leader Arjun Singh, who himself was labelled a 'Chanakya' of politics, has donned many hats over the years – from mechanical engineer to civil servant, Member of Parliament to Chief Minister.
Following an accident, Jogi has been confined to a wheelchair, but on the political battlefield, he's still an extremely active figure, whose name often crops up in controversies like the horse trading of MLAs, and removing the Congress candidate from the Antagadh by-election.
These days, Jogi has taken a leaf out of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's book, and is going from door to door in the villages. He claims that in the 2018 Assembly elections, he will deliver a result that nobody can ever imagine.
Whether Jogi and his newly-formed party Janata Congress (J) can deliver on his claims remains to be seen – but what's more certain is that the incumbent BJP and the Opposition Congress will both cede some political ground to the new entrant.
Many political experts agree if Jogi's party contests all 90 seats, it will eat into the Congress's traditional vote bank. However, state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel alleges that in the last two Assembly elections, despite being in the Congress fold, Jogi has brought benefits to the BJP, and now that he is no longer in the party, Jogi has quite obviously founded a 'B-team' for the BJP. Baghel is confident that the public will reject the Raman Singh government for its anti-people policies, and choose the Congress as an alternative.
Will deliver on promises, or sue me
On 6 June 2016, Jogi announced his new party in his son's constituency Marwahi. Then, on 21 June, he announced the name of the party in CM Raman Singh's ancestral village Thathapur.
Jogi claims that over the last one year, he has conducted over 300 public meetings, from Maoist-affected Bastar to Surguza. But now, in order to reach every nook and cranny of the state, he wants to hire a helicopter.
The former CM has ruffled the Congress and BJP's feathers by claiming that every plan his party formulates for the people of the state will be submitted on a sworn affidavit, and the public can file a case against him if he doesn't deliver on the promises.
“If I promise farmers a minimum support price of Rs 2,500 for paddy, I will deliver it at any cost. If I go against the affidavit, the public can file a case. A false affidavit can lead to an imprisonment of two years,” he says.
He says the party is readying around 10 lakh booth-level workers, who will go door-to-door and inform the people about the benefits of a Jogi government.
I am independent
After the formation of Jogi's party, many grassroot workers from the Congress and many other big and small parties have started dispersing. MLAs RK Rai and Siyaram Kaushik have openly attended Jogi's public meetings, as have former MLAs Vidhan Mishra, Dharamjit Singh, Gulab Singh, Paresh Bagbahra, Chaitram Sahu, Anturam Kashyap and heavyweight Gajraj Pagaria.
However, Jogi's wife Renu has not yet snapped her ties with the Congress, giving rise to intermittent speculation that sooner or later, a kind word from Sonia or Rahul Gandhi will bring Jogi back into the Congress fold. However, Jogi has ruled out such an eventuality, saying: “I respect the Gandhi family, which is why I join them in their joys and sorrows. But our political differences are too big to be reconciled.”
It's an old adage that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics. The same Jogi who was dumped by the Congress for trading MLAs was later welcomed back when senior leader VC Shukla joined the BJP. Jogi had fought Shukla from the Mahasamund Lok Sabha seat, and registered a historic victory. However, it it also true that Jogi lost to unknown face Chandulal Sahu in the previous Lok Sabha polls.
Focus on regional issues
At the moment, Jogi's party is steering clear of national-level issues. He says his party has been formed to raise local and regional issues, and that will be its agenda.
He says: “The BJP had promised an MSP of Rs 2,100 for paddy farmers, but after national leaders refused, CM Raman Singh had to backtrack. Our party will never do that. Chhattisgarh's issues will never be decided in Delhi.”
For now, political circles are rife with speculation about what will happen if Jogi returns to the Congress fold. Or, more importantly, if he actually does succeed in winning a few seats. Will he agree to an alliance with the Congress, or align with the BJP? What if his party just turns out to be one that divides votes, without winning? Will that signal the end of his political career?
Jogi has been a political acrobat all his life. People are eagerly awaiting his next move.