Within days of losing several of its prominent leaders in a deadly Maoist attack, the Congress in Chhattisgarh is a house divided.
With two senior leaders vying for control of the party’s state unit, the cadre is clueless on which leader to look up to in the build up to the Assembly election slated to be held later this year, says a party leader who escaped the attack.
Party leader and former chief minister of the state Ajit Jogi is at odds with Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh who has become active in the state’s politics after the Maoists gunned down state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel and senior party leader Mahendra Karma on 25 May.
The Congress was expecting to cash-in on the anti-incumbency against the ruling BJP in the state, especially after the recent attack on its leaders. But open infighting among party leaders has given a breather to the BJP, which has mounted an offensive against the Congress.
Although Jogi was at odds with Patel too, the latter was largely successful in quelling factionalism in the party. He had succeeded in taking along everyone in the party despite the presence of factions led by former Union minister VC Shukla (who died on 11 June from injuries sustained in the Maoist attack), Motilal Vohra, Jogi and Charan Das Mahant.
At a memorial service held at the party headquarters in Raipur on 6 June, Jogi said Chhattisgarh does not need leaders from outside and that only a son of the soil can “awaken” the people of the state, without referring to Singh who is from the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh.
Jogi is miffed with the party’s central leadership for brushing aside his suggestion to keep the party chief’s position vacant. To his displeasure, the party recently appointed Mahant as the party’s working president. Mahant is a known supporter of Singh.
Singh was the chief minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh for 10 years when Chhattisgarh was still a part of it. The party’s state committee in Chhattisgarh is filled with his supporters. Patel, Mahant and Ravindra Chaubey, leader of the Opposition in the state, are well-known supporters of Singh.
The BJP, meanwhile, has gone on the offensive, claiming that some Congress leaders were hand-in-glove with the Maoists and blamed them for the 25 May attack. Madhya Pradesh BJP chief Narendra Singh Tomar and senior leader Ananth Kumar held Jogi responsible.
With the National Investigation Agency (NIA) yet to start its probe, several newspapers carried a story quoting NIA sources that four Congress leaders were involved in the attack.
Even though the agency and the Union home ministry later refuted the news, such incidents have further demoralised the cadres. In an atmosphere where Maoists are threatening the lives of Congress leaders, the partymen are a bewildered lot.
Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar continues to maintain that Congressmen were involved in the attack. He alleges the NIA retracted from its previous statement on the case under pressure from the UPA government.
The Congress, meanwhile, has announced its plan to restart its Parivartan Yatra from Darbha. And much to Jogi’s distress, Singh has announced that he will participate in the Yatra.
While the party intends to continue its Yatra from Bastar, its cadres are disillusioned and afraid. Avdhesh Gautam, a party leader who survived the 25 May attack, says all party workers in the Bastar region are under threat. “Earlier, whenever they were asked to go to Sukma, Bijapur or Konta for any meeting, they would instantly go, but now they hesitate,” he says.
As the Congress cadres gather courage to go into the Naxal stronghold, they are clueless about their security and the direction of their party’s politics.
The BJP faces a similar situation. The Naxals have already threatened the party’s Vikas Yatra. The Naxals have killed many BJP functionaries in the past. In April, they killed Shivdayal Tomar, the district vice-president of the party in Dantewada.