The manifesto of the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) promises to increase the Minimum Support Price of paddy to Rs 2,500 per quintal. So does the manifesto of the Congress. The JCC has promised to end "outsourcing" of work in government jobs, in turn enabling local employment. So has the Congress.
Former Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi, who once used to be the face of the Congress in the state, broke away to form the JCC in 2016. He has forged a pre-poll alliance with the BSP and CPI, hoping to be the kingmaker on 11 December. The difference between the promises of Congress and JCC, said Jogi, is that he has sworn to deliver on a 100-rupee stamp paper. "If I go back on my assurances, anyone can file a complaint, and I could be jailed for two years," he told Firstpost in his constituency of Marwahi in Bilaspur district. "Has the Congress done it [provided such assurances]?"
Jogi, however, went on to say his main target in the elections is the BJP. "Narendra Modi has done nothing for the farmers," he said, "For the first time, Chhattisgarh farmers are committing suicide. They never took this step earlier, not even under British rule. It means the farmers do not have faith in the government."
Sitting in a wheelchair, two people ready to escort him into his private ambulance in which he travels, Jogi ended the conversation by saying a post-poll alliance would not be needed with any party. "We will form the government on our own," he said.
He knows it is not true. So do his party workers. "The state government will not be formed without Ajit Jogi," one of his confidants later said anonymously, "We would prefer a post-poll alliance with the Congress if Jogi gets the chief ministership."
Jogi's entry in the race has thrown the elections wide open. It has dismantled the conventional equations. Observers believe had it not been a three-way contest, the Congress would have been sitting comfortably. Jogi has a pan-Chhattisgarh appeal with a following among Dalits, Christians and Muslims. He claims to be a tribal leader as well — even though it is contested — but has made the Marwahi constituency reserved for the Schedule Tribe his den. He swept the seat in 2003 and 2008 on a Congress ticket, without ever visiting it once. In 2013, his son Amit won by a margin of over 40,000 votes. For 2018, Jogi is back contesting from Marwahi.
Adjacent to Marwahi is the constituency of Kota, from where Renu Jogi has won thrice — including a by-election — on a Congress ticket. Renu, Jogi's wife, is now contesting for her husband's party.
In the 2013 elections, even though the BJP won 49 seats and Congress was down to 39, the gap in vote share was less than one percent. In an election that appears to be closely fought where every seat matters, here are two seats the Congress used to take for granted, and will now find hard to retain.
Ramchand Kashyap, a farmer from Kudhkai village in Marwahi, said Jogi is accessible and has his heart in the right place. "My son was thrown off the train a month ago for travelling with the wrong ticket," he said, confirming his vote would go to 'Jogi Congress', as the JCC is commonly referred on the ground. "He leg was severely injured. I had to sell my land to treat him. I am a BJP worker, but my party did not help me. I went to Jogi sahib, and he immediately listened to me and promised to help. He knows the people of his constituency and cares for them."
Both the husband and wife are riding a wave of sympathy in their own way. Jogi, 72, who became paraplegic after a terrible accident in 2004, moves around in a wheelchair, yet is following a hectic schedule conducting two to three rallies a day between doctor's appointments. "If it had been someone else instead of him, he would have been bedridden," said Kashyap, as he watched Jogi being lifted from his wheelchair by four men and put in his helicopter before embarking on another rally.
Renu, on the other hand, is perceived to have been victimised by the Congress. She did not quit the party immediately after Jogi broke away and formed the JCC. In fact, she stayed on in the Congress for well over a year after the inception of the JCC. But when the Congress state leadership marginalised her, and eventually denied her a ticket from Kota, she quit the party and joined the JCC. "My family has been associated with the Congress for years," she said, "The people of Kota, whom I consider my family, elected me when I contested for the Congress. I did not want to betray them. But when the party rejected me, I consulted the people of Kota and joined the JCC."
Shantibai Singh and her husband Jeetandra, both farmers in Renu's constituency, believe the Congress shortchanged her. "She remained loyal to the party even after her husband left," they said, adding that the BJP government has been a disaster for farmers. "We have been asking for permanent electricity connection for so long. It would give us free electricity for five horse power irrigation pumps. Because we have not got one, we have taken a temporary connection that costs Rs 2,500 for three months," they added.
Across Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh faces anti-incumbency, mainly due to farm crisis and unemployment, which is why Jogi's promises of stipends to unemployed graduates and a fixed deposit of Rs one lakh in the name of every girl child that is born in his tenure, have struck a chord.
Jogi enjoys a certain popularity among the Dalits, and his tie-up with Mayawati has consolidated the Dalit votes, which had cost Congress in 2013 as well. Even though the BSP has shrunk in Chhattisgarh, the party's vote share in 11 constituencies in 2013 was more than the margin by which the Congress had fallen short of the BJP tally. And only four of those 11 seats were reserved for members of Schedule Castes. The alliance is an opportunity for BSP to revive its dwindling presence in the state, and for Jogi to establish himself as a strong regional satrap.
In the bastions of the Jogi family, Renu, though, might not find the going as smooth as her husband. Contesting against her on a Congress ticket is Vibhor Singh, a former DSP officer, who was once injured in Bastar fighting Naxals. His mother belongs to the Gond tribe, which constitutes a significant population of Kota. Some even feel the split vote could help the BJP sneak through. But Renu is confident "her family" will not let her down when she needs it the most. "I have represented this constituency for a while," she said. "Yeh mera sasural bhi raha hai aur mayka bhi."
Updated Date: Nov 14, 2018 17:45 PM