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Jogi's true colours
December 10, 2003
Karuna means 'pity' in Sanskrit. Sonia Gandhi must be wondering when Heaven shall show her a little compassion. Or, for that matter, whether she shall ever be free of 'Karuna' earthly style...
The first 'Karuna' to plague her is, of course, K Karunakaran. The second was the house that served as Ajit Jogi's official residence while he served as chief minister of Chhattisgarh. But the veteran from Kerala comes from a generation of giants; there is nothing mean in his pursuit of A K Antony, it has been an open vendetta fought in the grand manner. There has always been just a whiff of sulphur about Ajit Jogi, a hint of matters best left unseen. But he has now done something that leaves me profoundly depressed, a feat that few Congressmen have achieved since the days of the Emergency.
If there is one thing that India did really well, it is elections. And now here comes Ajit 'Moneybags' Jogi telling us, in effect, that hee-hee-hee, none of it really matters because he can overturn the results by suborning legislators. Even worse, the behaviour of his erstwhile party, the Congress (I), suggests that the Congress high command does not understand how far the party has sunk.
Most of the attention has revolved around the veracity of the notorious audio tape, a matter which, to my mind, is really quite irrelevant. What shall we learn if the matter comes up before a court? One set of forensic experts shall swear that the tape is genuine, the other side shall argue that it could have been forged. At the end of the day we shall be precisely where started, with a voice that could be that of Jogi. There, are, however, two damning pieces of evidence which prove Ajit Jogi's guilt.
The first is a letter written by Ajit Jogi in his own hand. In this epistle -- which Jogi has publicly accepted as his own -- he informs the governor of Chhattisgarh that the 37 Congress legislators in the Vidhan Sabha shall back a break-away faction from the Bharatiya Janata Party in the name of giving the state an Adivasi chief minister. Do you get it? Here is a man plotting to entice defectors within 24 hours of an election result that had just gone decisively against his own party!
The second is the behaviour of the Congress 'high command'. When the scandal broke, Ambika Soni¹s immediate reaction was to play for time. Within the hour, however, she was back saying that the chief minister had been suspended with immediate effect from primary membership of the Congress (I). Ambika Sonia may be Sonia Gandhi¹s political secretary and one of the office-bearers of the Congress (I), but that certainly doesn¹t give her the authority to take such a decision. Given the traditions of the Congress (I), it is absolutely certain that she had consulted the party president. Why was Sonia Gandhi in such an almighty hurry to distance herself from Jogi? (So much so that she refused to grant him an audience when he came to Delhi.)
One reason -- and this has already been suggested by the Bharatiya Janata Party -- could be that she knew about the conspiracy. This would explain Jogi's seeming assurance in the tape about his leader's green signal to support a defector from the Bharatiya Janata Party becoming chief minister of Chhattisgarh. But we need not go that far, there is a simpler explanation at hand -- namely that Sonia Gandhi knows her man and the depths to which he can sink.
Ajit Jogi was not a household name when he became the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh. He had previously contested a grand total of two popular elections. He won the Raigarh Lok Sabha seat in 1998 by a miserable margin of 4,382 votes, then lost from Shahdol in 1999 by 19,901 votes. Making a man who had lost an election -- and who was not then an MLA -- the chief minister was entirely Sonia Gandhi¹s decision. She then persisted in standing by him when fellow Congressmen began speaking out against Jogi's autocratic manner and alleged corruption. Her support did not waver even when the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a case of forgery against Jogi, nor when his stupid boast of being Kanshi Ram's heir led to Mayawati's fury. All that Sonia Gandhi seemed to care about was that Jogi had promised to deliver Chhattisgarh.
It seems the Congress (I) has still not grasped that enticing defections is a sin in itself. Look at the reason that Ambika Soni gave when she announced that Jogi was being kicked out -- not because he was flirting with the law, but because he had dragged the holy name of the party president into the sordid affair!
Almost exactly 200 years ago, Napoleon ordered the execution of the Duc d'Enghien, a member of the exiled French royal family who had been enticed back to France. When the emperor protested that he had every legal right to impose the death sentence, Talleyrand responded with the famous rebuke, 'Sire, it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder!'
The Congress (I) can argue forever that the party is not guilty of any illegality. But Ajit Jogi is the living symbol of the established Congress tradition of corrupting democracy to serve its own ends. A healthy democracy demands an Opposition that is a viable alternative to the government of the day. Does Sonia Gandhi's party deserve to be seen even as a government in waiting any longer, or has it fallen so far that it is time to look for an alternative?
T V R Shenoy