The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jogi takes on trappings of Laloo

Raipur, July 27: BJP activists in Chhattisgarh admit they have a long haul ahead as the anti- incumbency factor may not work in view of chief minister Ajit Jogi’s persona which dominates politics in the state.

As Chhattisgarh goes to polls with its older sibling, Madhya Pradesh, in November, the chatter is that Bihar is being replicated. “It’s a Jogi-vs-the rest situation just as it is Laloo Prasad Yadav versus the others in Bihar,” said Inaiyat Ali, convener of the BJP’s minorities cell.

What is it that the former bureaucrat, who was inducted into politics by Congress leader Arjun Singh, has in common with Laloo Prasad Yadav, a product of anti-Congressism of the Jayaprakash Narain era'

Jogi’s supporters say that like Laloo Prasad, he has crafted a social alliance of the tribals, Dalits and a section of the backward castes, the success of which will be tested in the polls.

As long as Chhattisgarh was part of Madhya Pradesh, it was ruled by the upper castes. The well-known local leaders were either pedigreed Brahmins, like the Shuklas and Motilal Vora, or “coopted” Dalits and tribals, like Dilip Singh Bhuria and Arvind Netam (both Congress).

“Jogi is the first tribal leader they can relate to because he speaks their language and not the Sanskritised Hindi adopted by those aspiring to be like the upper castes,” said local Congress sources.

Moreover, Jogi has cleverly reinforced his regionalism. During last week’s Raipur national executive, the BJP put out ads seeking support for having created Chhattisgarh. Jogi countered with another ad identifying himself with regional icon Khoobchand Baghel, who is regarded as Chhattisgarh’s first “swapnarisht (conceptualiser)”.

But unlike Laloo Prasad, he succumbed to the Congress’ temptation to flirt with soft Hindutva. Jogi promised to build a temple for Ram’s mother, Kaushalya, as Chhattisgarh was supposed to be her birthplace. The stages of his vikas yatra were flagged off from temples. He, however, brushed aside suggestions that he was doing a Shankersinh Vaghela with the line that Hinduism was not the BJP’s property.

Jogi claims that despite BJP efforts to propagate Hindutva in the tribal state, he did not arrest VHP leader Praveen Togadia when he camped in the state for two days and made allegedly inflammatory speeches because “he had no impact and I did not want to make a hero of him”.

The chief minister also dismissed the BJP’s charge that in 33 months of his rule, 300 churches were built and maintained that not a single shrine came up. “I concentrated my resources on building medical and agricultural colleges,” he said.

The Congress chief minister dominates the pollscape while the BJP struggles to choose a chief ministerial candidate from among central minister Dilip Singh Judeo, best known for his shuddhikaran (reconversions), former central minister Raman Singh and Raipur MLA Braj Mohan Aggarwal.

Acolytes of Nationalist Congress Party leader Vidya Charan Shukla are hoping he would emerge as a “consensus” candidate if there is a hung Assembly. Scion of the legendary Ravi Shankar Shukla, Vidya Charan quit the Congress to further his chances.

In his sprawling farm house on Raipur’s outskirts, Shukla, who’s close to 80, seems a remnant of another political era. His supporters touch his feet and take care not to come in his way as he settles in a chair to speak to journalists over breakfast. If Jogi’s politics has all the features of the post-Sanjay Gandhi phase with an accent on street-smartness and an awareness of Mandalised realities, Shukla lives in a feudal past when the Brahmin’s writ was unchallenged.

The BJP thinks Shukla’s importance is over-stated. He has been cagey on whether he would have an alliance or a seat understanding with the BJP. Shukla believes Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s personality would not impact Chhattisgarh polls, so local factors would be the imperative when alliances had to be clinched.

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