So far,Ajit Jogi had been asserting his loyalty while taking obvious steps towards a rebellion against the Congress. On Sunday,the former Chhattisgarh chief minister left no one in doubt. He avoided mention of the Congress at an election rally he held for candidates he is promoting in Abhanpur,the stronghold of former state party chief Dhanendra Sahu.
The rally marked the start of a campaign tour that Jogi plans to wind up in the constituency of another of his rivals,current PCC chief Charan Das Mahant. The tour coincides with the Congresss official campaign,which resumed on Friday after it had been suspended following the Naxal attack in Darbha. Jogi had skipped the relaunch,made from Rajnandgaon,BJP chief minister Raman Singhs constituency.
There were few signs that Jogis rally had anything to do with the Congress. Jogi and his supporters did turn out in scarves in the traditional Congress colours,but there were no posters of the Congress,nor the customary references to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
Repeatedly sidelined by the high command,Jogi,now 68 and bound to a wheelchair,is staring at possible political oblivion should the Congress come to power. Over the last one-and-a-half months,he had made several trips to Delhi demanding that either he or a nominee of his be made the chief ministerial candidate,but the Congress instead downsized him. In the recent PCC expansion,he was confined to the election committee alongside several other leaders. His wife,Renu,was made state vice-president alongside 15 others; his son Amit got nothing.
In a traditionally bipolar state,Jogis gambit now appears to be to collect the numbers,hope for a hung assembly and make his support necessary for forming the government. From within the Congress,he got 15 MLAs to a snacks party and then 21 to an iftaar party last week. In the first election since the Darbha attack,a rebel he put up defeated the Congress candidate in a nagar panchayat in Bastar. In the last assembly elections,his dummies had caused the defeat of then leader of the opposition Mahendra Karma,then PCC chief Sahu and programme coordinator Bhupesh Baghel.
Outside the party,his camp has struck a deal with the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch,whose members are getting lessons in poll management at the official residence of his wife,an MLA. The CPI has warmed up to the idea of such a front,and the Jogi camp is looking at the BSP too. These parties have never gone beyond three or four seats. If he can bring them together,however,the 10 or so seats Jogi appears to be looking at could be enough to swing the balance in a small assembly of 90.
He is aware that the Congress if victorious would not entertain him,while he shares very cordial relations with Raman Singh. A smiling Jogi has been photographed with the chief minister several times in the last few years. Jogis aides confide that it would suit him better if Singh remains CM.
Congress leaders dismiss the challenge,pointing out Jogi had led the party in the last two polls but it still lost,though he did ensure the defeat of his rivals in the party. Until Sundays show,Jogi had been claiming only he could lead the Congress to victory,besides asserting a tribal should be CM and accusing the Congress of ignoring tribals. Congress leaders junk any tribal connection with poll strategies or victories the Congresss first CM was Jogi; the leader of the opposition against the next regime was a tribal,Karma; and the CM of the last 10 years is not a tribal.
Incidentally,Jogi is being probed,following the Supreme Courts orders,over whether he is really a tribal the identity his politics hinges around or whether he belongs to the Satnami SC community,as some have alleged. The government has been dragging its feet over the probe report.
The Maoist connection
The CPI,considered close to Maoists in Bastar,agrees that the latter stand to gain from the political uncertainties thrown up by a new front. It will naturally give Maoists more space to operate and negotiate. But we hope they will come into the mainstream after this, says CPI state secretary R D C P Rao.
The partys tallest leader in Bastar,state secretariat member Manish Kunjam,is a champion of tribal rights who has been demanding withdrawal of troops,and who a few months ago held a rally seeking autonomy for Bastar under the Sixth Schedule. It is perceived to have been held with Maoist support. The CPI denies any understanding with Maoists,but praises them for awakening tribal,marginalised and disadvantaged groups.
Bakshi says,We are trying for a third front. The instability will remain for some 10 years,but it will ultimately bring change. The Sixth Schedule will make Bastar an autonomous region,as parts of Assam and Tripura are. In response to a question,he says,It will not lead to Gorkhaland-type situation. It will be a true democracy,a militant democracy. Maoists will be forced to join the mainstream.
Jogi too has been against excessive deplyment of forces in Bastar and believes in handling the situation socially and politically. He had strongly opposed Salwa Judum.