‘I am a strong leader, so I’ll be attacked more’

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Ajit Jogi | 67 Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister. Photo: Rajkumar Soni
Ajit Jogi Photo: Rajkumar Soni

Edited Excerpts from an Interview

With Assembly polls round the corner, you are exhorting people to join the ‘Jogi Express’ and going on tours independently. Is this in the interest of your party?
My tours should not cause distress to anyone. I am only attending the Satnami community’s ceremonies to commemorate the holy Mini Mata’s death anniversary. I speak what is in the hearts of people and that’s why they come to hear me. I am not running any ‘Jogi Express’. In fact, the popularity of Chennai Express among the youth made me propose the idea of a ‘Mini Mata Express’. The young party workers got excited and coined the phrase ‘Jogi Express’. They flaunted it on vehicles. I intend to invite people from all religions to join. I raised slogans keeping in mind the different communities.

You announce the names of candidates in these meetings. If they don’t get tickets, won’t they be upset with the party?
Every leader tries to bring his supporters forward. What’s wrong if I introduce someone as a supporter? I have supporters in every village, so it’s possible for my supporters to contest from all the seats. Being their leader, it is my duty to try and get them tickets. But once the list of candidates is finalised and it gets Sonia Gandhi’s approval, all of us will work together to help the chosen candidate win, even if he’s a rival.

Will you float a separate party?
I am loyal to Sonia Gandhi and the Congress. There is no question of forming a separate party.

What will you do if the party decides to take disciplinary action against you?
There are no ifs and buts in politics. My politics is dedicated to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

You seem to have been sidelined since the rise of Rahul Gandhi in the party…
It is a natural process of generational change. We must accept that we are senior leaders. How long can I work alongside Rahul? There is a huge age difference and his team has mostly young people. I was just a few years junior to Rajiv Gandhi and had a friendly relationship with him. Rahul must be sharing a similar relationship with the youth. It is natural and I don’t mind it.

Is ‘Jogi Express’ an attempt to project your son Amit Jogi?
I don’t worry about Amit. He has the potential and has proved his organisational skills in the NSUI and the Youth Congress. Young men from the state support him. It’s for Soniaji to decide the course of his political career. I won’t interfere in it. I have never asked for anything from the Nehru-Gandhi clan. Whatever I have received was bestowed by them. I was a collector; Rajiv asked me to join the Rajya Sabha. Then they gave me a ticket to contest for the Lok Sabha. When Chhattisgarh was formed, Soniaji asked me to become the CM and I came here.

Are you a contender for the CM’s post?
The Congress doesn’t have a tradition of naming CM candidates. If the party wins, a meeting of the elected MLAs will be held. Observers will confidentially ascertain their opinions and after a discussion among senior leaders, Sonia Gandhi will take the final decision.

How will you counter the BJP’s plan to remind the people of your mistakes during your tenure as CM?
A strong leader has to face strong opposition. I am strong, so I will be attacked more. We have Indira Gandhi’s example before us. Allegations of all kinds were made against her. It’s the law of politics. If you are not strong enough, why would your opponents worry about you?

What’s your agenda for the upcoming elections?
Thanks to CM Raman Singh, we have a number of issues. One is the Naxalite issue. When we were in power, the Naxals were limited to the borders, but now they have spread across two-thirds of the state. The entire state has been branded a Naxal region. Earlier, we were the least affected state but now we top the list. It has put pressure on Naxal-free areas. The other issue is about loot of natural resources. Our state is rich in resources but they are being plundered. The locals are being deprived. The government has even put the rivers on sale. There are five projects on the Mahanadi at present but strangely the farmers won’t receive even a drop of water. The Rogda Dam deal also made headlines. The BJP government has sold off the entire state at a petty price.

The Naxalite attack in Darbha has struck fear among the party workers. What’s your strategy for the region?
All parties share this problem in the Naxal-region. All I can say is that if fair elections take place in Bastar and Sarguja, the results will be different. The BJP manipulated the last two polls to win. If Raman Singh is so popular that the BJP wins 11 of 12 Assembly seats in the Bastar region, why has he lost in his own backyard, Rajnandgaon and Kawardha? That there were bogus polls in Bastar can be proved by the sudden rise in voting from 30 percent to 80-90 percent. I think there’s some truth in Digvijaya Singh’s allegation that the BJP has linked up with the Naxals. The Election Commission should look into it.

Is it true that you plot against your rivals within the Congress?
I have already clarified that I struggle for my supporters till the time of ticket distribution. Once the decision is taken, whoever gets the ticket is accepted by us as the candidate. This is what I tell my supporters.

If Rahul’s ticket distribution formula is applied, many veteran leaders who have lost elections twice before won’t get tickets. How far do you agree with the formula?
Rahul Gandhi is the senior-most leader of the party. If he has given a formula, it should be applied.

Will you contest the Assembly election?
I leave it to Soniaji. My wife and son are also active members of the party. The party will decide if any of us gets the ticket, and I will honour the decision.

As the BJP begins its ‘Vikas Yatra’, what’s your take on the issue of development?
Jogi – If Raman Singh had actually done any development work, there wouldn’t be a need to do nay drum-beating about it. As a CM, he has become a master of making announcements. Work hasn’t even started on the projects he has announced. Now, he is again making promises of multi-crore investments in the name of development.

Given the regime-change happening every year in states like Jharkhand, why do you think Raman Singh has been able to run a stable government for 10 years, even though you consider him an outsider?
The BJP’s win in the last two elections in Bastar and Sarguja was manipulated. If fair polls are conducted, they cannot defeat the Congress.

You seem to have a strong foothold independent of the party…
I am not doing anything behind the back of the party. I talk about the poor from my heart and they come to listen to me. It’s not a sponsored crowd.

How will you handle the Naxal issue if you come to power?
Raman Singh doesn’t have an understanding of Naxalism. Or maybe he does, but he’s letting it grow for political gain. If we come to power, we will at least not let it grow further. If we can’t put an end to it, we will bring it under control.

Several cases of corruption in the industrial and mining sectors have come to light. Why has your party not confronted the BJP on the issue?
It is said that our party leaders have joined hands with the BJP. I don’t know if it’s true but people call it a ‘Salwa Judum’ of the parties. As far as I am concerned, I have always confronted the government.

There are allegations that Raman Singh is funding your meetings…
The day Raman Singh decides to fund my meetings, it will be a black day for the BJP. It’s absolute untrue. Raman has always tried to vitiate me. I am the only MLA from the region who was accused of murder. Forces were sent to Gandai to arrest me during the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha bypoll. But I had full faith in the judiciary. The next day, I was cleared of the charge. Then I was framed in a false dacoity case in Dongargarh and was cleared again. My son was falsely implicated in a murder case and sent to jail. My caste has been made a subject of controversy.

What’s your view on the implementation of Schedule VI in Bastar?
Schedule VI is the ideal provision for tribal regions. But I believe that even if they don’t implement it just now, laws under Schedule V like PESA Act, Forest Rights Act, Section 170 of the Land Revenue Code, SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, etc, should be enforced. There are many laws, but there is a lack of political will to implement them.

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Translated from TEHELKA Hindi by Naushin Rehman

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