The Life And Works Of Ajit Jogi (1946-2020)
What does a dispassionate assessment of Ajit Jogi’s life look like?
It is a tradition in India to eulogise the deeds of the departed. Even so, it will be a travesty if the lives of those who occupied public offices are not scrutinised honestly.
Ajit Jogi has been a controversial personality in the history of Chhattisgarh and dominated the politics of the state for two decades.
Unfortunately, he passed away yesterday after a two-week long illness. His life has been a story of inspiration, ambition, and determination with a pinch of nepotism.
His story started in Pendra, Bilaspur, where he was born to Kashi Prasad Jogi in 1946. His father had converted to Christianity, and Ajit Jogi being a bright student, his education was sponsored by the missionaries.
Once he was mesmerised by the sight of people touching the feet of an IAS officer who visited his village and was inspired to get similar adulation. So, after he finished reading for his engineering degree from the Maulana Azad College of Technology (now NIT Bhopal), with a gold medal, he prepared for UPSC while teaching at the Government Engineering College (GEC) Raipur.
Such was his determination that he was not satisfied with being just an IPS officer after his first attempt and did not rest till he got to be an IAS officer after sitting for the UPSC again.
Such was his far sightedness that while serving as the Collector in Raipur, he made sure that he was notified whenever Rajiv Gandhi’s plane (then a pilot with Air India) landed in the city. He ensured that he provided him refreshments and created a bond with him.
This proved useful when Rajiv became the prime minister and was searching for a tribal face for a Rajya Sabha seat. It is said that in New Delhi, Jogi would visit the same church as Sonia Gandhi did and thus became a familiar and trusted face of the Gandhi family.
So in 2000, when Madhya Pradesh was bifurcated, his proximity to Sonia Gandhi helped Ajit Jogi become the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh, surprising everyone and sidelining stalwarts such as Motilal Vora and Vidya Charan Shukla.
Jogi never looked back and became the face of Chattisgarh politics thereafter.
As CM, he reigned over a corrupt government. He oversaw the dissolution of various departments after the split with Madhya Pradesh and numerous government servants were transferred.
Such was the terror of Jogi’s writ that this BBC profile quoted a minister of his as saying that “I oversee the transfers of all levels below peons, and the above are all seen by Jogiji.”
Ajit Jogi never shied from using dirty tricks as part of his politics.
A local cable network known as Akash channel, which he allegedly owned, was used to put opponents on toes.
The worst, however, came in 2003, when he and his son were accused in the murder case of Ramavatar Jaggi, of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
He also engineered the ‘Judeo sting operation’ where senior BJP leader Dileep Singh Judeo was seen accepting cash on camera.
When this backfired in the state elections in 2003, and the Congress lost to the BJP, instead of accepting defeat graciously, Ajit Jogi tried to break away BJP MLAs to create a Congress-led government but was himself caught in a sting operation and exposed by Arun Jaitley.
He was subsequently suspended from the Congress.
After a quiet rehabilitation, he was set to contest the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. But it was then that he suffered a brutal car accident. Call it sympathy wave or his charisma, he managed to win the only the seat for the Congress from Chhattisgarh that election, defeating V C Shukla.
In 2008, he contested the Assembly elections again from Marwahi and won handsomely; though Congress lost to the incumbent Raman Singh government.
Much of the loss was attributed to the internal factions within the Congress.
It is believed that Ajit Jogi intended to dwarf any other political leader in Chhattisgarh Congress and wanted complete dominance of his family over the state unit.
That is why, in 2013, there were conspiracy theories floating when he escaped the Darbha Ghati massacre, carried out by Naxalites. Jogi was travelling in a helicopter while other leaders—Mahendra Karma, V C Shukla and Nand Kumar Patel—all top leaders of the state Congress, were killed when Naxals ambushed and attacked their convoy.
Questions were also raised because Kawasi Lakhma, then considered a close aide of Jogi, escaped alive miraculously.
The Congress lost in Chhattisgarh in 2013 again and this was attributed to the Modi wave.
In the 2014 General Election, Jogi put up 10 bogus candidates with the name ‘Chandulal Sahu’ to defeat his rival of the same name. Yet, Jogi lost.
This was even after he warned the gullible voters that they might get an electric shock if they voted for anything other than the Congress.
Another high-profile controversy of Ajit Jogi came to light when he conspired with BJP to withdraw the Congress candidate for the Antagarh by polls and was allegedly caught on tape while doing so, which led to the expulsion of his son from Congress.
Following this, he formed his own independent party, the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) which was often known as Jogi Congress too.
Initially considered as only a vote cutter, Jogi surprised everyone when he announced an alliance of the JCC with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party for the Assembly elections in 2018, thereby posing as a serious third option. However, the party went on to win only five seats.
The Congress however had won the majority and Jogi’s rival, Bhupesh Kumar Baghel, bagged the CM post. Jogi then limited himself to being a critic of the government through social media.
In his two decades in Chhattisgarh, he defined what is now called the Jogi style of politics, centred around Chhattisgarhi pride and tribal identity.
He wanted to consolidate the Satnami caste as his vote bank. He spoke in chaste Chhattisgarhi and always claimed a humble background despite having enjoyed all perks in life.
He imitated the politics of the Gandhis and ensured that his wife, son and even his daughter-in-law get party tickets. Even though he was the first IAS to become a chief minister of a state, his tenure was considered so dreadful that it kept the Congress from power for 15 years.
The question over his caste and the related 30-year-long battle revealed the ugly picture of politics centred around reserved seats in India.
What is to be learnt from Jogi’s life? I believe it would be his ability to bounce back from any situation. Be it overcoming his background to become an IAS, or returning to politics after the accident of 2004 which tied him to a wheel-chair for life; or after the suicide of his daughter who wanted to marry someone against the wishes of her father; or consecutive losses in Assembly elections.
Not many people know that Ajit Jogi was part of the delegation to the United Nations for its golden jubilee.
It was Jogi who introduced ‘A se amli’ in place of ‘anar’ in Chhattisgarh text books and ironically, it was a tamarind seed that became the cause of his death.
The writer has lived in Chhattisgarh for 20 years.
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