‘In entire Chhattisgarh, Congress does not have any presence.’
Ajit Jogi, the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh who now heads the regional outfit he floated after deserting the Congress—Chhattisgarh Janata Congress—spoke to The Sunday Guardian on how difficult it was for him to leave the Congress party, why he is not the “B” team of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the Congress alleges and on who will be the Chief Minister if his party comes to power. According to political observers, the role of the 72-year-old leader will be vital in the formation of the next government in Chhattisgarh as he is expected to win about 20-30 seats in the 90-seat Assembly. Excerpts:
Q: Who is your biggest challenger in the state—the BJP or Congress?
A: No doubt the BJP. In entire Chhattisgarh, Congress has virtually no presence. They have no leader, no face, no organisation. In these 15 years of Raman Singh’s rule, they have not carried out one single agitation to show that they have the ability and will to seriously fight the BJP. Hence, we are fighting the battle against the BJP.
Q: There is a perception that the BJP, especially incumbent CM Raman Singh, is supporting you secretly and that you are the “B” team of the saffron party.
A: If I was the “B-team of BJP”, why will I be contesting from Rajnandgaon seat (from where Raman Singh contests)? I am contesting against the CM. If I had any understanding with the BJP or Raman Singh, would I be contesting from there? And then, there are certain other facts that you need to take into account when you talk about these perceptions. This is the same BJP government that lodged a false case of murder against me. When they failed to stop me even after that, they lodged a case of dacoity against me—a case of looting Rs 10,000 and a gold chain from Bamleshwari temple. Fortunately, we have an honest and working judiciary and I was exonerated in both cases. The BJP is hounding me for my caste for the last so many years. So how can they be my friends? Friends don’t carry out such personal attacks.
Q: Why should the people of Chhattisgarh vote for you? They last saw you as CM 15 years ago?
A: You are right, they saw me as a CM 15 years ago. In the three-and-a-half years I was the CM, they have seen the kind of work I was able to do. They have seen my work as an MP for five years. They know my work, my functioning from the time when I was the Collector. They have seen me all these years that I have always been with them, even in the last 15 years (though not in power) and never left them. I have a vision for Chhattisgarh. The regional party that I have formed will decide on the issues of the state while sitting in Raipur and not while sitting in Delhi or Nagpur. I want to give jobs to 90% of the local youth. And that is why the youth will vote for us.
Q: What will be your priority if your party comes to power in the election that is now less than four months away?
A: I have signed a legal affidavit that on the first day of coming to power itself, I will increase the minimum support price to Rs 2,500, order to reserve 90% jobs for locals and introduce prohibition in the state. If I do not fulfil all these promises, anyone has the right to sue me. No politician has the guts to do this, but I have done this.
All these three promises I have committed myself to, have been arrived at after careful thinking. We have 30 lakh unemployed youths, thanks to the “unemployment factory” that is being operated in the state by Raman Singh for the last 15 years. Liquor consumption in the state is the highest in the country. We can’t allow this to go on. I am going to visit Gujarat soon to get an idea about how milk production techniques, that the state is famous for, can be replicated in Chhattisgarh too.
Q: Who will be the CM if your party reached a position where it can form the government?
A: I will be the Chief Minister.
Q: How hard was it for you to break away from the Congress considering the close relations that you shared with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi?
A: I did not face much difficulty. Welfare of the people of Chhattisgarh was and is my objective, something that everyone from the Congress was well aware of, and in front of this, nothing else counts. So, when I saw that the future of Chhattisgarh was not going in the right direction, the aspirations of youths were not being addressed and even the Congress was not interested in it, I decided to end my relation with the Congress and formed a regional party.
Q: What if the Congress leadership approaches you in the near future?
A: See, now things have become very different. Our main objective is the welfare of Chhattisgarh, we have regional goals. Going with Congress will not help us in achieving that objective.
Q: So no chance of a tie-up with Congress…?
A: That question does not arise. We are contesting on all the 90 seats for which we are in an advanced stage of short-listing candidates; a large number of them have already been shortlisted. We are not going to ask for bio-datas or take interviews, the most suitable candidate from the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress family will be given the ticket.