New Delhi: “We would have won sitting in our homes without doing any campaigning, if only this issue was let to develop the way it was naturally happening,” Ajit Jogi rued the lost opportunity by the Congress ahead of the 2013 Assembly elections. A marble statue of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi looked passively ahead as the former Chief Minister surrounded by his supporters at his Raipur residence interacted with this reporter.
That was five years back. The top Congress leadership had been eliminated in a Naxal attack in Bastar. The blame game was on—both within and outside the Congress. Jogi was still in the Congress. Though no longer the first choice of the party leadership.
In 2018, the first chief minister of the state of Chhattisgarh is contesting his first elections outside the Congress fold. That’s three decades after the boy from Marwahi quit civil services to join politics when Rajiv Gandhi brought him into public life.
There are many firsts for Ajit Jogi in these elections. Especially in the 72 seats which will be going to the polls on Tuesday. The central divisions of Bhilai, Durg and Raipur divisions, also known as the Satnami belt, are his areas of influence. And he’s aligned this time with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to consolidate the Dalit vote in his pocket borough.
This vote base has been his strength. Despite projecting Jogi as its leader for almost a decade, the Congress could never really dislodge Raman Singh, though the contest was always close.
Jogi’s polarising personality, especially in urban areas, also rubbed on the Congress. Even if Congress would later not declare him as CM candidate, his stature and state-wide presence overwhelmed everything else.
The Congress could neither survive with or without Ajit Jogi. The party this time decided to bite the bullet and take a chance. That left Jogi to work various other permutations and combinations for survival.
Interestingly, just ahead of the second phase of polling, Jogi in an interview to a news channel did not rule out any post poll truck with the BJP when asked if he would accept support from the ruling party.
The news spread like a wild fire. Both the BJP and Jogi perhaps realised the damage this one statement could do to both the parties: the core Jogi voters who may be voting for Janata Congress against the BJP and the BJP’s support base which Raman Singh has repeatedly mobilised in elections to keep Jogi out of power.
In the last 36 hours, Jogi has sworn by every holy book that he will not align with the BJP after elections. He has said he would prefer to hang himself than touch the BJP with a barge pole.
Even consummate politicians like Jogi at times make mistakes. Its ramifications would be better gauged when votes are counted in the second week of December.