Congress leaders say the party is willing to accommodate Ajit Jogi to some extent but will not be bullied or blackmailed by him, reports Anita Katyal
The Chhattisgarh assembly elections are less than three months away but the Congress leadership is still struggling to contain the rebellious Ajit Jogi, the state’s first chief minister. Jogi has been insisting that he should be projected as the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Senior Congress leaders have held a series of meetings with Jogi over the past two weeks to work out a compromise, but to no avail. Annoyed at being sidelined in state politics, Jogi wants to be in the driver’s seat in Chhattisgarh.
He would like to head the party’s election campaign committee, which would automatically place him ahead in the race for the chief minister’s gaddi. Jogi has also been insisting that besides him, his wife Renu, a sitting MLA, and son Amit should also be given tickets in these elections.
Realising that Jogi has the potential to play spoiler, the Congress leadership has offered to accommodate his wife and son in the state but asked Jogi to contest the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Jogi apparently is not agreeable to this proposal as he will be effectively out of state politics and will no longer be a contender for the top post.
Jogi has returned to Chhattisgarh after camping in Delhi for over two weeks while the Congress’s crisis managers are racing against time to put their house in order.
Congress leaders said the party is willing to accommodate Jogi to some extent but will not be bullied or blackmailed by him. It was for this reason that the party offered to give tickets to his wife and son even though there is a CBI enquiry pending against him. The party does not want to give Jogi a free run in the state.
The Congress does not want to name him the party’s campaign committee chief as it would then provide Jogi an opportunity to take charge of the election. Unable to placate Jogi, the Congress has still not appointed anybody as the campaign committee chief, although all other panels have been put in place for the state elections.
The Congress is caught in a bind on this issue. It cannot afford to ignore Jogi as he has substantial support in the state, especially among the tribals and Dalits, and is capable of damaging the party in the elections.
Jogi demonstrated this recently when he ensured the defeat of the official Congress candidate in a local by-election.
If the party agrees to his demand and gives him a free run, the former chief minister could well end up sidelining the party itself and alienating the Other Backward Classes.
“Jogi is the party’s biggest strength and also its biggest weakness,” remarked a senior Congress leader. “He has mass support but also acts unilaterally,” he added. In addition, the corruption charges leveled against Jogi during his tenure as chief minister have also put off the Congress leadership.
Jogi swears loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family but that has not stopped him from stoking rebellion in the Chhattisgarh Congress. At the same time, he has been dropping hints about leaving the Congress to form a third front or strike a deal with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
He has organised, what he describes, as “non political rallies” across the state but was actually a show of strength to seek support for his loyalists in the coming elections. This was frowned upon by the Congress leadership in Delhi. Jogi deliberately did not display the Congress flag or party president Sonia Gandhi’s photographs.
While Jogi supporters complain that the former chief minister has been sidelined by the party over the past ten years, his detractors are quick to state that he should not be indulged as he had failed to lead the party to a victory in the last two assembly elections.
They maintain that Jogi is basically waging this battle against the party for his son Amit, an accused in a murder case. Peeved that his son had not found a place as an office bearer in the party state unit structure, he is now insisting that Amit Jogi be given a party ticket in the assembly polls.