Dynasts in Indian politics abound across party lines and across states, but nowhere is the entire political spectrum subservient to two father-son acts as in Chhattisgarh. Chief Minister Raman Singh was always expected to push his reticent son Abhishek’s case, as he eased into his third straight term in office. Former CM Ajit Jogi, on his part, has been building a very public platform for his boisterous progeny, Amit, for the past decade.
It would be naive to think that either father wants anything less than chief ministerial responsibility for his son in the near future; the paths they have chosen are for the moment, divergent.
Amit contested and won his father’s Assembly seat Marwahi six months ago, when Singh won from Rajnandgaon. Ajit Jogi stayed away from the contest. Now Abhishek is seeking a win from the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha seat, where his father had beaten Congress veteran Motilal Vora in 1999 to become Union MoS for commerce immediately after having lost from the Kawardha Assembly seat. Ajit Jogi, who had grandiosely announced sanyas after the Congress lost the November 2013 Assembly polls, has instead decided to wear jeans and kurta on campaign trails, as he seeks to win from Mahasamund for a second time.
The two fathers provide the genetic backdrop to the contrast with which their sons seem to be evolving as public figures. Singh is laidback, listens more than he speaks and generally conveys an Atal Bihari Vajpayee-like calm impression: impervious to criticism or praise and forever thankful for God’s grace.
Jogi is an outstanding political mind, sharp, shrewd, unwavering and unrelenting. His network of supporters is spread all over the state, which has been a thorn in the flesh of Congressmen more than the BJP. Abhishek gets his gentle nature from his father and is soft-spoken to a fault. Like the father, every party worker feels really close to him without actually having anything substantial to give or receive in terms of political advice or wisdom. Amit, on the other hand, moves with the arrogance and flash of a Raj Thackeray. He would like to be more Sanjay than Rahul whom he impressed with his detailed planning abilities.
Both Jogi and Singh have a son and daughter each. Amit’s middle name is Aishwarya while Abhishek’s wife from Kota, Rajasthan, has the same first name. Both Singh and Jogi come from the rural heartland of Chhattisgarh and took the two available routes most popular in the 1960s and ’70s India, out of their homes. Singh became a doctor, while Jogi became an engineer and later entered the IAS. It’s almost like a Jeffrey Archer story. One joined the BJP and the other the Congress. Both rose to the top of their ladder and while the pushy one became the CM first, the diffident one has had a longer unblemished tenure.
In the backyards of Mahasamund, Amit, 36, and his crack team are forever juggling figures on laptops and fixing meetings and opponents. The Sahu caste dominates the constituency with about 22 percent vote share, followed by Kurmis with 20 and Satnamis with 15. Motilal Sahu, who was the Congress candidate last time, and lost by about 87,000 votes to Chandulal Sahu of the BJP, has been denied the ticket due to Jogi. His supporters say that since Jogi is a tribal, he should contest from a tribal seat. Amit led a delegation to Motilal’s home to defray tempers but he knows that he will have to target the Satnami, Christian and tribal votes in the constituency and turn it into an anti-Sahu contest. “I am proud that Amit has taken over most of the planning and execution, leaving me free for mass contact,” says Jogi.
Mahasamund has a historical significance for Chhattisgarh. The winner has usually got an important portfolio in the Union Cabinet. VC Shukla represented it a record six times, while Purushottam Kaushik, who won in 1977, also became a Union minister. Jogi himself could not get into the Union Cabinet in 2004, but the importance of the seat remains because of the heavyweight contestants. Of the eight Assembly segments, the BJP currently holds six and Sahu, who is aiming for a third straight win, may not be a pushover.
Rajnandgaon, on the western edge bordering Maharashtra, has been a marked seat for long with Vora, Shivendra Bahadur and Raman Singh having represented it. In contrast, capital Raipur has not given such tall leaders.
Gangly and elegant, Abhishek mixes with people with an ease born out of having lived in the CM house throughout his 20s. At 32, Singh may have chosen the right moment to break him into the sea. At a time when Modi is rampant, Abhishek may win by a record margin. And that may all be attributed to his father’s planning, who announced the candidature of sitting MP Madhusudan Yadav six months ago. But at the very last moment, Yadav was withdrawn and perhaps promised another role to keep him and his supporters satisfied.
For those interested in long-term speculations, it seems within the next five years, the two sons will be pitted against each other like the fathers today. Right now, there seems no challenger in sight, who could cause an upset when the time for generational change comes. Arun Vora or Amitesh Shukla may fancy their chances as sons of former CMs, but they are in a different age group, which may be subsumed by Singh-Jogi within their political lifetime. To Jogi and Singh’s credit, both have shown restraint and never said anything unpleasant against each other. In fact, most observers in Raipur suspect there is an unseen line of communication between the two. Abhishek and Amit have also so far avoided confrontational politics unlike, say, the Thackeray cousins in Maharashtra or Badals in Punjab.
At a rally just outside Rajnandgaon, Singh says the right things about Modi and a BJP government. The posters give him equal space with Modi, underlining his clout in his own jagir. But in his public contacts, he tells everyone that it’s their own son they are sending to Parliament. Not for the Singhs the specifics, numbers and figures conjured up by laptops. That is best left to the BJP brains trust. The Singhs just go out and smile a lot, meet everyone who has turned up and with old-timers reminisce the days that were. Simple rice-loving Chattisgarhis love the simplicity of this duo more than the other, but Jogi’s rollicking fun-filled, folksy address is an equally big attraction. From his wheelchair, he cracks rustic jokes and makes jackal calls to the amusement of the crowds.
In two different parts of the state, two different sets of leaders are busy drawing and redrawing their conquests. For them, it goes much beyond this passing Modi phase; it’s about a state and its future leadership.