November 1, 2000


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The Rediff Profile/ Chattisgarh Chief Minister
Ajit Jogi

'There is no threat to me'

Ajit Pramod Jogi took over as chief minister of Chhattisgarh at midnight, November 1, 2000. His party, the Congress, said his election to the much-coveted post was unanimous. However, the events immediately preceding his swearing-in ceremony in the new state's capital, Raipur, indicated otherwise.

Jogi was called names by his own partymen. They even physically assaulted Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh.

Which only serves to indicate that the times ahead are going to be trying.

Will Jogi be able to deliver? What are his real challenges? Ramesh Menon profiles the 54-year-old chief minister, whose real battle will be giving the poor people in his resource-rich state a new life.

Sometimes, Life draws unusual fatelines.

Look at Ajit Jogi, Chhattisgarh's first chief minister.

Thirty-two years ago, he joined the Indian Police Service. Then, much to the joy of his mother, Kanti Mani, he was selected for the Indian Administrative Service. She hoped her son would bloom as an IAS officer.

In the early seventies, Jogi -- then a collector -- was seen all over Raipur. Little did its citizens -- or anyone else -- dream that, one day, he would be sworn, in the same city, as the chief minister of the newly created state of Chhattisgarh.

Fifty-four-year-old Jogi, a former Congress spokesman, was hardly the frontrunner for the post. When the state was formed in July 2000, it was the Shukla brothers -- Shyama Charan and Vidya Charan -- and some ministers in the Digvijay Singh cabinet who looked likely candidates. But Jogi slowly worked his charm, reaching out to the lady who mattered.

According to insiders, Jogi managed to convince party president Sonia Gandhi and her coterie that he would be the best bet for the Congress. His main argument was that he had nearly 15 years of administrative experience in the area.

But the Gandhi who first changed his destiny was Rajiv. Then a prime minister on the lookout for fresh young faces, Rajiv convinced Jogi to resign from the IAS in 1986. With Arjun Singh supporting him, Jogi was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Jogi went on to enjoy two consecutive terms in the Rajya Sabha.

In the meanwhile, he also used his strong communication skills to strengthen his contacts within the party. He became close to Rajiv. This obviously helped him grow. And get noticed.

When Rajiv died, he became close to P V Narasimha Rao. After Rao, he quickly began to build bridges with Sitaram Kesri, going to the extent of gaining the Congress leader's confidence by accompanying him on morning walks.

When it became obvious that the reins of the Congress were in Sonia Gandhi's hands, he edged closer to her. He had already taken care to build a good equation with her secretary, V George.

Jogi was soon appointed the party's spokesman. It was a job he loved. He was on television every day, trying to prop the sinking Congress image. He was efficient, dodging difficult questions and lying blithely for his party. His assignment as spokesman not only gave him lots of exposure in the media, it made his name a household word.

Jogi handled the media well. He made journalists feel special; he would always give the impression he was giving them exclusive information. Besides, he was intelligent. He was articulate. He was patient.

Though he loves horse riding, gliding and yoga, he may not be able to indulge in any of his hobbies once he dons the chief minister's mantle. There are just too many issues that require his urgent attention.

For Chhattisgarh is not going to be an easy state to govern.

Rampant poverty punctuates the resource rich state, which is mostly inhabited by tribals. The literacy level is low. The area is underdeveloped. Lack of infrastructure is a major problem.

Out of Chhattisgarh's 16 districts, seven are hotbeds with Naxalite activity. Already, there is a demand for the separate state of Bastar. Jogi has to address problems of poverty, unemployment and injustice if he has to neutralise the growing Naxalite influence.

Already, seven districts of the newly formed state are reeling under a severe drought. Soon, thousands of villagers will be forced to migrate in search of food and water.

Jogi, who has no previous ministerial experience, heads a state that has started off with a liability of around Rs 80 million. How he will give a fillip to the economy and aggressively address the infrastructure problem remains to be seen.

The new Chhattisgarh legislature has 48 Congress MLAs, 10 more than the BJP. Yet, Jogi cannot take his majority for granted.

Ironically, his first battle may not be in shaping Chhattisgarh. He might be forced, instead, to deal with angry Congress dissidents. They are already insisting that only someone elected from the state has the moral authority to take over as its chief minister. They have also questioned Jogi's tribal status.

Ugly scenes punctuated his swearing-in ceremony, as Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh was assaulted. Angry supporters of V C Shukla, who was information and broadcasting minister during the Emergency, attacked him to vent their anger against Jogi being selected as chief minister.

Shukla, in the meanwhile, has been promised more fireworks.

Chuckling on the sidelines are the BJP legislators. Suddenly, it seems they have a chance to be in power.

For Jogi, getting a first class gold medal when he was studying for his engineering degree in Ujjain was easy. What will be difficult is holding his demanding party members together. There are just too many aspirants for the chief minister's chair. The air is thick with revolt.

Minutes after Jogi was sworn in, there was just one question on everyone's lips: How long will he last?

Jogi, in typical spokesman lexicon, brushed aside the speculation: "We are a democratic party. There will be differences. But there is no threat to me."

In Chhattisgarh, though, no one is sure of that.

Jogi sworn in as Chhattisgarh CM
'The statements of BJP leaders have to be taken with a pinch of salt'
'Corruption charges against Kesri are baseless'
Rich in resources, Chhattisgarh has a long way to go
MP Chief Minister Digvijay Singh on Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh: The new Indian state
The Chhattisgarh CM
The Ajit Jogi interview
From engineer to IAS officer to CM, Jogi has come a long ways
'Sonia will value feelings of Chhattisgarh locals'
Jogi wants Sonia to name Chief Minister
Chhattisgarh may weaken Congress in MP
Chhattisgarh Online

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