Ajit Jogi's battle

Published : Nov 21, 2003 00:00 IST

In Chhattisgarh it is a straight fight between the Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Party and the campaign revolves around personalities and their problems rather than real issues.

OF the four States going to the polls in December, Chhattisgarh is the only one in which the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be totally out of sync. It appears confused, bereft of any real issues; it has no leader to project as its chief ministerial candidate; and it has unwittingly helped Chief Minister Ajit Jogi remain in the limelight by constantly attacking him on various grounds. The BJP is harping on the Chief Minister's alleged corruption, his non-performance and his unconventional and dictatorial style of working. On the other hand, the Congress(I) is focussing on "our leader Ajit Jogi" who has "transformed" the State in barely three years of its existence. The result is that the elections in Chhattisgarh have turned into a referendum on Jogi's tenure in power.

The fact that the BJP has not announced its chief ministerial candidate is also helping Jogi as he is interpreting it as a sign of lack of leadership in the party's State unit. Importantly, Chhattisgarh is the only State going to the polls in December where the BJP has not announced its chief ministerial candidate.

"This is a sure sign of defeat on their part because they are so confused they don't even have a leader whom they can project against me. They have failed to find a match for me," says Jogi. He has reasons to feel complacent. He said that past experience was that whenever a campaign became personalised and targeted one person, that person had benefited. Jogi said: "We made the mistake of focussing our attack on Modi during the Gujarat elections, and Modi is the Chief Minister of Gujarat today. People rallied around him. Indira Gandhi was singled out for attack by a unified Opposition in the post-Emergency era and she bounced back to power in 1980. Similarly, Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar became the focus of Opposition attack in the last Assembly elections and he rules the State today. Similarly, Jayalalithaa, who was singled out for personalised attack by the DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] in the last Assembly elections, rules Tamil Nadu today. The BJP has failed to learn from history."

Jogi is confident that the development work done by his government will help him win the elections. "We are sure to win. The State has seen unprecedented development in the last three years which people could not have even imagined before," he says. According to Jogi, as against an expenditure of Rs.60 crores a year on road development three years ago, the government now spends Rs.1,200 crores a year; as against an expenditure of Rs.90 crores on irrigation three years ago, the government now spends Rs.900 crores; and 20,000 water pumps have been electrified every year as against 1,000 earlier.

These figures make even the Congress(I) high command confident of victory, irrespective of the charges against the Chief Minister. "The Opposition will try to malign the Chief Minister because they have nothing else to speak on. But people are interested only in development. The charges against Jogi will have no impact in rural and tribal areas, which have actually seen development in the last three years," says Vilasrao Deshmukh, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and party general secretary in charge of Chhattisgarh.

HOWEVER, the BJP thinks otherwise. "We have delayed the announcement of our chief ministerial candidate as a matter of strategy. Jogi takes refuge in his tribal status for everything, similar to the way Mayawati takes refuge behind her Dalit status. If we announce our candidate, Jogi will play upon that. We want to deny him that advantage," says BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar. As for issues, he says, "Jogi Hatao" is the focus of the party's campaign because Jogi is a "forged Chief Minister" who "forged income certificate, caste certificate, and I.B. documents to get sensational publicity". (The last reference relates to a Central Bureau of Investigation chargesheet against Jogi, in which the offence is only vaguely mentioned.)

According to Javadekar, it was the Chief Minister himself, rather than the BJP, who made the elections "Jogi-centric". "We shall approach the people with our "Chhattisgarh, Vision 2020", which will have a real tribal flavour as opposed to Jogi's forged tribal flavour. To attain that vision, the removal of Jogi is essential, so `Jogi Hatao' comes as a corollary. We will expose the failures of this government," he says. The BJP's campaign, which is steered by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's niece Karuna Shukla, has come up with the slogan of dhan, dhaan aur dharmantaran (money, rice and conversions) to attack the Jogi government. The State has seen a bumper rice crop this year but the government procurement has been dismal resulting in distress sale by farmers. The BJP hopes to capitalise on this issue in the rural areas. Corruption and religious conversions too are issues that the BJP will focus on during campaigning.

The most dominant issue, however, remains Jogi. The reasons for this are not far to seek. His unconventional style of working has raised eye brows at times. For example, the construction of the Hasdeobango canal, which was pending for the last three decades, was completed under Jogi's tenure in a record 15-month time at a cost of Rs.175 crores. The procedural formalities were completed in 15 days. The BJP has levelled charges of corruption in the project's execution. But Jogi remains unfazed. "The Lok Ayukta has inquired into this complaint and found that the project was transparent. In fact, the Lok Ayukta was appreciative that a project that had been pending for so long has been completed in record time," he says. As for other corruption charges against him, he challenges the BJP to prove even one of them. "Why is it that they have not brought even a single charge to either the Lok Ayukta or the Anti-Corruption Bureau? They only believe in talking about it because they know there is no substance in those charges," says Jogi.

According to Jogi, the personalised attack on him is a sign of desperation in the BJP, which has lost all hope of winning the elections by fair means. "Once their charges against me boomeranged, they targeted my wife, then my son and now even my dog," he says. The BJP had complained to the Election Commission (E.C.) that Jogi's wife, an ophthalmologist in government service, was running free eye camps and distributing free spectacles in order to influence voters. In response, the E.C. instructed Jogi's wife not to attend such camps until the electoral process was over. Interestingly, the BJP even attacked Jogi for "training his dog to bark at and bite only BJP men". In fact, there was a discussion on the "issue" in the Assembly.

Apparently, the BJP in Chhattisgarh is a confused lot. The logic in not announcing the chief ministerial candidate lacks conviction. The inside story is that this has been done to keep dissidence in check because there are many contenders for the top job in the BJP. If Dilip Singh Judeo, who is widely believed to be the party's choice for the top job, is officially declared the candidate, State BJP president Raman Singh would start grumbling and that might affect campaigning. Besides, the presence of Karuna Shukla has created a lot of heartburning among senior party workers, who resent her overbearing ways.

The battle lines in Chhattisgarh are clearly demarcated. It is a straight fight between the BJP and Congress(I). The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by the veteran leader V.C. Shukla, has failed to make its presence felt so far. "Chhattisgarh is a bipolar State. The fight is a straight one between the Congress(I) and the BJP. There is no space for a third party here," says Jogi. Vilasrao Deshmukh agrees. He, however, says the NCP could create problems by giving the ticket to those who are denied it by the Congress(I). "But that would not be a big problem for us," says Deshmukh.

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