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BJP battles larger-than-life Jogi

Raipur, Nov. 30: Ek adivasi ne sarkar banaee/Yeh baat kuch ko raas na ayee (Some people are upset that a tribal heads the government here),” screams a Congress campaign poster.

The punchline does hit the nail on the head because the land of 36 minor kingdoms (hence the name Chhattisgarh) has been largely feudal, with over 95 per cent of the population being Hindus.

This is where the RSS has worked for years and the BJP and the Sangh parivar treated it as their pocket borough. It is easy, therefore, to see why a Congress chief minister, a Christian, and a “tribal” at that, is so unacceptable to the BJP.

Ajit Jogi himself did everything to drive the knife in and heaped insult to injury. When he became the chief minister of the newly-formed state in November 2000, his government’s position was precarious. But he survived by engineering a defection from the BJP.

He rubbed salt into the wound by getting a BJP legislator to vacate his Assembly seat for him. Jogi worked tirelessly to break the BJP and held out an olive branch to everyone who was willing to desert the BJP ranks.

The daughter of the leader of the Opposition, the nephew of Dilip Singh Judeo, the mayor of Bilaspur — everyone was embraced and welcomed into the Congress. On top of that, he tried to hijack the BJP’s agenda by aggressively visiting temples and wooing the rival’s constituency.

Another term for Jogi is, therefore, seen as catastrophic for the BJP, which has thrown in everything into the campaign. The former collector of Raipur is also accused by the BJP of unleashing police on party workers.

On many occasions, they allege, the police used bulldozers to demolish platforms erected for the party’s public meetings.

A large number of BJP supporters was reportedly arrested and others brutally beaten up by the men in uniform. At meetings held in the houses of Opposition leaders, they point out, police in plain clothes would wait outside to identify those who attended.

That was enough to drive away many of the sympathisers. Little wonder then that the BJP has come to hate the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, accusing him of every conceivable sin, ranging from faking caste certificates to forging documents.

Jogi is said to have made it worse by looking the other way when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s effigy was flogged, stamped by feet and burnt.

The treasurer of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was killed a few months ago and both the BJP and the NCP were quick to blame the chief minister’s coterie for the crime.

Finally, Jogi has been accused of promoting caste groups, giving them generous donations, and thus driving a wedge into the traditional BJP support base. That partially explains the ferocity of the BJP campaign against Jogi.

But even his worst detractor acknowledges that Jogi is both hardworking and efficient.

In three years, his government claims to have reduced administrative expenses to 23 per cent of the state’s revenue, got more and better roads laid, virtually doubled seats in engineering colleges, promoted three “world class” hospitals by inviting both Apollo and Escorts to set up shop, launched three new universities and appointed almost 6,000 doctors.

On the flip side, his government also allowed as many as 28 “private universities” to mushroom, many of them functioning from rented rooms.

Financial rules were flouted with impunity and many projects were pushed through without inviting open tenders.

Another charge that has stuck on Jogi is promoting his family.

Several IAS and IPS officers concede that the chief minister’s 25-year-old son, a second-year law student in Delhi University, does interfere in the administration and often interacts with them. Even one of the gates at the secretariat here is named Renuka Dwar and people swear that it is named after the chief minister’s wife, a doctor by training.

While the state government may well have a more plausible explanation, there is no denying the fact that overzealous loyalists have promoted a personality cult around the family, launching not just a Renuka Sena but an Amit Sena as well, the latter named after the son.

Indeed, if Jogi does lose the elections or fails to muster a majority, an eventuality that appears unlikely given his clout and larger-than-life image, he can blame his own ruthless streak and his son’s overriding ambition.

A bureaucrat, a Jogi loyalist, summed up the situation when he reluctantly agreed that for Jogi, the best course would be to send back his son, a natural-born American, to the US.

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