RAIPUR: With BJP's Raman Singh facing a resurgent Congress as he seeks a third term as chief minister in Chhattisgarh, former Congress CM Ajit Jogi has emerged as a new third factor.
In a state where the vote-share difference between the BJP and Congress was only 0.75% in 2013 and where many seats are won by very low margins, Jogi - with his new regional party Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (Jogi)- has tied up with BSP and CPI to create a third front. In a closely fought election, even if his grouping does not win too many seats, it may split the opposition vote.
In Episode 2 of Election with Times (see above), we catch up with Ajit Jogi in his constituency of Marwahi where he answers questions on whether he is working as BJP's B-team by cutting Congress votes, his equation with Raman Singh and with Sonia Gandhi. Watch this episode in our special election travelogue where reporters from the Times of India and Navbharat Times bring for a ground flavour of the campaign as we dissect the Jogi factor with local voices in central Chhattisgarh.
Full transcript of Ajit Jogi's interview with Nalin Mehta and Sanjeev Singh
You are being seen as the X-factor in this election. What are you hoping for as your best possible outcome?
We have formed a regional party which is the need of the hour, and we have an alliance with Mayawati-ji and CPI. We are quite sure that our alliance will do very well and we will govern the state.
We will form the government on our own.
But your critics are saying you are like a B-team of BJP because you are cutting into a lot of Congress votes.
I am cutting into votes of both BJP and Congress, but it may be slightly more of Congress because I was with the party earlier. It is not true that I am not affecting BJP.
Raman Singh appears to be a simple man but is very vindictive. First, in 2007, he made his people file a case of murder against me. On the very first day, the court said it was frivolous and discharged me. Then, I had gone to visit a temple and he got an FIR lodged against me saying that a person on a wheelchair like me had committed a robbery of Rs 10,000, a gold chain and a camera. That was also a totally false case and it fell through.
Third, he has gone against me about my caste. According to Raman Singh, I am the only person in India who has no caste because he doesn’t believe I am a tribal. But he doesn’t tell me if I am not a tribal, then what am I? The fourth is against my son, Amit. They lodged a case of conspiracy to murder; he was acquitted by the lower court. Raman Singh did not stop there, he filed an appeal in the high court. Then he filed an appeal in the Supreme Court. There also it was in favour of Amit but now he filed it before the constitution bench of the SC.
So, how can I be having good relations with a person who has been after me? My son had to spend some time in jail because of Raman Singh. No one knows these facts and that is why they say I am very close to him. He has always given the impression that I am close to him. On the other hand, he tries to harass me like this.
So, are you saying there is no question of a tie-up between BJP and you in case of a hung house?
We will cross the bridge when we reach there, but as far as my assessment today is concerned, we will not need anybody to support us. We will be on our own. Our alliance will get a majority.
Is there a lot of bitterness between you and Congress after you left?
Absolutely no bitterness! I fell ill recently. Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi rang up my wife and my son to find out about my health. So, at a personal level, I remain close to the family, but I have left because I had reasons to form a regional party.
Your reasons for forming a party?
This is a very resource-rich state and both the national parties, have not done justice to this state. We have diamonds, we have gold but they haven’t done anything about that. We have uranium but nothing happens to that. We have the best iron-ore in the world. Most of it goes to Japan and China and we are not making use of it. We are very rich in coal and bauxite. 25% of cement produced in India comes from Chhattisgarh. It is such a rich state and yet 50% of people here are below the poverty line.
This paradox – a rich state inhabited by the poorest people – can be removed only when there is a regional party which takes decisions here and doesn’t depend on Delhi.
But Chhattisgarh is a two-party system which has never voted for a third force. Aren’t you splitting the anti-incumbency vote and harming Congress?
I don’t think so. I am cutting into the votes of both the parties. We are on our own. People have been looking for third alternative for a long time. Many other persons tried in the past but they didn’t succeed. I am sure from the way people have responded to my new political party, and the way they are supporting us, that we are a strong set-up on our own. Congress or BJP won’t be able to defeat us.
(This interview appeared on the Times of India's print edition on 16/11/2018)