A week before the Chhattisgarh Congress expelled former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s MLA son Amit, PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel had declared that “the Jogis have ruined the party”. And on Wednesday, Baghel said, “We have recommended that the AICC removes Ajit Jogi too. We are sure it will be accepted by the party.”
It marks a turnaround in the stature of a leader whom the Congress had once allowed to throw his weight around. Hours after The Indian Express had reported purported telephonic conversations between the Jogis and others over the 2014 bypoll in Antagarh, the state Congress stated it did not want the father and the son in the party. As Baghel later clarified, he could not have taken such a tough stand against the once loyalist of Congress president Sonia Gandhi without her tacit approval.
Fall from grace
Soon after Jogi, then CM, had lost the 2003 election, he was suspended from the party with a similar tape having apparently caught him offering a bribe to buy the support of BJP MLAs. He was reinstated within months, as he was then the face of the party in Chhattisgarh.
The big difference between then and now is that in 2003, he could take the defence that he had worked for the party’s interest. This time, the recordings show him purportedly making a deal against the party.
Second, the strength he once commanded is heavily reduced now.
Until a few years ago, he would routinely hold shows of strength at his home and over 30 MLAs, 80 to 90 per cent of the Congress’s strength during the term concerned, would gather there. When the state Congress called for his removal over the Antagarh controversy, he tried to put up another show of strength. Of the 39 current Congress MLAs, he could manage a gathering of only four or five — including his wife and son — at his home as he called for action against the PCC.
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In the run-up to the 2013 assembly polls, he was threatening to form a new party if his candidates were not fielded; he was seen supporting many rebel candidates. Though he faced no action, his stature had started to fall gradually over the past few years. The PCC had been giving frequent reports to 10 Janpath about his supposed links with top BJP leaders and attempts to weaken the party, such as the support to rebels in 2013.
The tape controversy gave fresh ammunition to the PCC and various district committees. In a move few would have thought possible a few years earlier, all 34 district Congress committees passed a resolution recommending the Jogis’ removal from the party. These included even the unit in Bilaspur, their home district.
The company he keeps
The Jogis has been denying their links with Firoz Siddiqui, who was allegedly his middleman in the deal for the Antagarh polls. It is a fact, however, that both Amit Jogi and Siddiqui have been co-accused in the same murder case. Siddiqui was frequently seen visiting the Jogis’ house.
Besides, the relations between Ajit Jogi and Chief Minister Raman Singh are too cordial for other Congress leaders’ comfort. Neither leader has made any attempt to hide the fact that they are close; they frequently attend each other’s personal functions.
Jogi is known to have taken stands that contradict, even dilute, the Congress campaign against the Raman Singh government. Last year, for instance, when the PCC had launched a campaign against Singh over a ration card scam, Jogi had gone public in advising the party against such moves.
A BJP leader once told The Indian Express that “Jogi is a bonus”. And former Chhattisgarh Congress chief Nand K Patel once said, “It’s not appropriate that Congressmen meet Raman Singh and other BJP ministers in the dark of night.”
Faced with possible expulsion, the sharp strategist is said to be contemplating finally forming the new party frequently talked about in Chhattisgarh. It is a step he has been reportedly planning for the last few years, with his heyday with the state Congress clearly over. His son too is a well-known leader in Chhattisgarh, something Jogi’s supporters feel would give them enough seats in the small assembly of 90 to play the kingmakers, if and when needed.
The state Congress will see itself as a major gainer; with Jogi out of the way, they can deal with the BJP more easily. And if he does float a new party, a triangular contest can help the Congress.
In the BJP, the biggest challenge comes to Raman Singh. As the Congress has indicated, he will come under pressure. “We have acted,” Baghel said. “It’s now up to the BJP to take action against Raman Singh.”