A divided Congress party in Chhattisgarh is unable to emerge as a strong opposition, even though issues like the arrest of journalists and civil rights activists, a death of farmers, irregularities in the purchase of paddy have presented it with the opportunity to corner the Raman Singh led BJP government. Apparently, the Congress leaders in the state are more concerned about how to sabotage each other’s political career.
State Congress president Bhupesh Baghel, who was appointed in December 2013 ostensibly to arrest the clout of former CM Ajit Jogi, has been successful in that assignment, but beyond this, he has not been able to help the party. Baghel, a long time Jogi baiter, was appointed as the Pradesh Congress Committee chief after the party’s narrow loss in the 2013 Assembly elections. It was Baghel who prevailed on the party high command to make sure that Ajit Jogi’s son and former MLA from Marwahi, Amit Jogi, was suspended from the party in January 2016 for his alleged role in fixing a byelection, which was won by the BJP.
While replying to this newspaper’s queries on how infighting among the party leaders was affecting the Congress in the state, Baghel denied that there was any infighting. He also said this was a non-issue. “Write on the BJP’s misgovernance, and not on Congress,” he said. He also made no secret his tiff with the Jogis, and when asked about Amit Jogi, he stated that “Kachra saaf ho raha hai, jaldi ho jayenge (Garbage is being cleaned from the party, it will soon be cleaned)”.
However, this infighting has affected the morale of the Congress party workers, who have witnessed three successive Assembly election losses at the hands of the BJP. “The morale of the workers in the state is low because of three successive losses in the state Assembly elections since 2003. As of now, Chhattisgarh is the only state in the country where the Congress party is in a position to challenge the BJP, which was evident in the last Assembly elections too. However, organisationally, the party is in a shambles, as our senior leaders are more concerned about installing their loyalists at various posts with no regard to merit. None of the senior leaders are taking to the street to raise issues like farmers’ suicide (there have been 309 farmer suicides in the last three years), despite farmers being our core vote bank,” a Raipur based party spokesperson said.
The extent of the misalignment came to the fore last week again when Congress leaders came together to oppose the statement made by former party leader Amit Jogi, who is an MLA from Marwahi, after he protested the move to raise the salaries of the MLAs in the state.
The junior Jogi had stated that out of the 90 MLAs in the Assembly, 67 MLAs were “crorepatis”. However, the Congress MLAs chose to side with the BJP on this issue.
While speaking to this newspaper, Amit termed increasing the salary of the MLAs as a “cruel joke” and a “heinous crime” in the wake of the severe drought conditions affecting the farmers of the state. He also questioned the conduct of the Congress MLAs who were supporting the hike. “It is unfortunate that instead of questioning the decision of the government, s few leaders are questioning me in this connection. I hope these leaders start looking beyond ‘Jogi’ and stand for the welfare of the poor farmers of Chhattisgarh,” he told this newspaper.
According to Raipur based party workers, the issues of farmers’ death and the arrest of several journalists in Bastar were largely being ignored by the Congress leaders. “Right now, the main agenda of Jogi, Baghel and T.S. Singhdeo (Leader of Opposition in the Assembly) is how to weaken each other. None of them are thinking about strengthening the party and preparing for the 2018 polls,” the Congress spokesperson said.
According to a Congress MLA, who has served in the Cabinets of Digvijaya Singh and Ajit Jogi, public issues have been ignored by party leaders because of the internal tiff. “Rather than speaking about raging issues, our senior leaders are busier in bringing their private issues into public. Right from 2003 to 2013, we lost the Assembly elections because of infighting and despite this, unlike in the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, the gap between us and the BJP in the 2013 elections was very less. The Congress has already lost power in Arunachal Pradesh due to this and is fighting desperately to stay in power in Manipur and Uttarakhand where it is being challenged by dissidents. If we are not able to set our house in order soon, we will be pushed to the periphery just like our colleagues in Madhya Pradesh,” the MLA said. In the 2013 elections, the difference in the votes received by the BJP and the Congress was a mere 0.75% (BJP 41.04%, Congress 40.29%).