The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jogi sells jal, jungle & job dreams

Raipur, Nov. 21: When Ajit Jogi acted in a local film Sapno ka Raja (Dream Merchant) three years ago, his detractors called him a “flamboyant dream merchant”.

“I am one. I have a dream. So I am here,” the Chhattisgarh chief minister had shot back. In a lead political role this time, Jogi sought to sell dreams of a different kind today when he released the Congress manifesto, which he called a historic document.

The chief minister also displayed his political acumen in the run-up to Chhattisgarh’s first elections by making sure he looks after the interests of those whom he has lured to the Congress from other parties as well as those party rebels he has won over. Jogi today announced he would introduce a Vidhan Parishad (Assembly Council) at a time when other states are dispensing with it, clearly to reward those who have flocked to his side.

The sometime-actor dismissed the BJP’s manifesto as one coming from “a party which does not want to rule” and criticised its leaders, but was careful not to attack rival Dilip Singh Judeo openly. The former Union minister has had to step down after being caught on video CD allegedly accepting bribe to help an Australian firm obtain mining rights in Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Jogi’s manifesto puts forth a five-year plan to reduce administrative costs which at present account for 40 per cent of the total expenditure. The Congress also plans to tap natural resources to maximise revenue so that the chief minister can declare Chhattisgarh “a (tax) holiday state”.

Jogi aims to net Rs 10,000 crore — the revenue inflow is currently Rs 500 crore.

The chief minister aims to offer patta (land lease) to tribals who have occupied land since 1980 and also make provisions for “jal, jungle and zamin (water, forest and land)”. He also announced that a campaign to spread literacy in forest districts would be stepped up and efforts made to empower tribals. But increasing exploration for minerals is making forests in Bastar and Surguja disappear, leading tribal leaders to wonder how Jogi will provide “jungle” to the tribals.

For the backward castes, the chief minister has announced 47 per cent job reservation. He is hoping to wean away a significant portion of the backward (Satnami) votes from parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Gondwana Ganatantra Parishad and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, all of which have pockets of caste influence. Jogi realises he will be able to strike a chord among Satnamis as his father is a Satnami and his mother a tribal. “He has played a good caste card,” a former Congress MP said.

“My stress would be on infrastructure, education and employment,” Jogi said today. “To do this, I would introduce compulsory primary education in backward areas and (mandatory) computer education in all government schools,” he added.

Jogi’s proposed Vidhan Parishad will be a second chamber of the state legislature. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have already abolished the parishad, while Laloo Prasad Yadav talks of phasing it out as the council places a huge financial burden on the state exchequer.

But the “dream merchant” has justified plans for the parishad by saying it will “provide more representation to the people where the seats are reserved for the indigenous people”.

But BJP state chief Raman Singh said the chief minister, who is beset with factional feuds, must have thought of reviving an archaic institution “in an effort to appease the new allies he formed from other parties”.

The BJP said the Congress never felt the pangs associated with the state’s birth three years ago as it was the BJP-led Centre that played the role of midwife. “So, all the Congress promises and initiatives can never be sincere since they have come from an adopted father,” a slogan attributed to A.B. Vajpayee says.

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