The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Kidnap’ & crossover sideshow

Raipur, July 19: Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi today shocked the BJP by netting the daughter of the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Much to the embarrassment of the saffron party’s top brass that has gathered here for a party national executive, Priyam Sai announced: “The BJP is anti-tribal. Only Sonia Gandhi and Ajit Jogi can protect the tribals. That is why I am quitting the BJP and joining the Congress.”

Yesterday Nandkumar Sai, the BJP’s Opposition leader, had staged a sit-in inside a police station, alleging that his daughter, son-in-law and grandson had been kidnapped from their house in Garihat village of Jeshpur district by one Mohan Sai. “Jogi and his son are behind it,” he had said.

But the BJP central leadership looked the other way. General secretary Pramod Mahajan said: “It is a local issue and I would not comment on it.” Sources, however, said Nandkumar was pulled up for making it an issue.

If Nandkumar was getting the brickbats, Jogi received bouquets. Late in the evening yesterday, the chief minister received a call from 10 Janpath. Sonia Gandhi, who had vetoed stiff opposition from within the party in November 2001 to appoint Jogi chief minister, lauded his efforts to “strengthen” the Congress.

Party functionaries said they were initially nervous when reports of the alleged kidnappings reached the Congress headquarters. To many, it was a chilly reminder of the murder of local Nationalist Congress Party leader Avtaar Jaggi two months ago. NCP leader Vidya Charan Shukla had sought to implicate Jogi and his son in the killing, but failed to substantiate his charges.

Reacting to the dramatic developments, the Shukla camp alleged that Jogi had masterminded it to please Sonia. “After the Avtaar Jaggi fiasco, he was under pressure to do something spectacular. He found a weak link in Priyam Sai,” an NCP functionary said.

The “weak link”, according to the NCP source, was Priyam’s suspension on corruption charges from her post of block chairperson of Pharsbahar tehsil of Jeshpur. She had tried to get the order stayed, but was not reinstated.

Local BJP leader Lokesh Karware alleged that Jogi was “in a habit” of using “strong arm tactics”. “All of us are under constant pressure. The chief minister continues to have a collector mindset,” he said, referring to Jogi’s past as a collector before joining politics.

Unfazed by the criticism, a smiling Jogi said he had little role in drafting in Priyam. “If like-minded people wish to join the Congress and defeat an anti-tribal party like the BJP, our doors are always open,” he said.

About Nandkumar’s charge that he had “pressured” Priyam to join the Congress, Jogi said: “I have never met her. Where does the question of pressuring her arise'”

Stressing that Priyam had joined the Congress on her own, he said: “Nandkumar is levelling the allegations as the development took place when the BJP national executive is meeting in the state capital.”

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