Ajit Jogi: Clever, confident and ever controversial (Obituary)

Raipur, May 29 (IANS) Ajit Pramod Kumar Jogi (1946-2020) will always be remembered as one who could have put his immense political and administrative acumen to better use to give Chhattisgarh a head-start as its first Chief Minister.

For his intellect and his communication skills in English, Hindi and Chhattisgarhi, he had few peers among the natives — the tribals and the Satnamis — who form the core population of the state. Chhattisgarh was essentially carved out as a new state in 2000 to catalyse the growth of the backward classes. His name did not figure among the contenders for the Chief Minister till ten days before the state was formed. He sprang a surprise by outsmarting the fancied players.

Jogi's chequered political career was preceded by brief spells as an engineering college lecturer in Raipur and an IPS officer and a long spell as IAS officer.

His 1968 graduation batchmates from Bhopal's Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology (then known as Maulana Azad College of Technology) remember him as a brilliant student who took his Mechanical Engineering degree, winning the University Gold Medal and never needing the reservation quota except while entering the engineering course.

His stints as IAS officer were marked both by innovative ideas and controversies. Almost after each posting, he faced charges of irregularities. He served as District Collector at Sidhi, Shahdol, Raipur and Indore. During his stint at Sidhi, he cultivated veteran Congressman Arjun Singh who mentored him for many years and guarded him against adversities.

The first case of financial impropriety was filed against him in 1980-81 when the Kodar dam was under construction during Jogi's stint as District Collector in Raipur. He wriggled out without any damage. Arjun Singh happened to be the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh then. But the case dragged on till the next decade before he was exonerated.

As District Collector in Indore in 1981-85, he was accused of amassing wealth and there was a raid by the Lokayukta. Arjun Singh was alleged to have played an important role in getting Jogi a Rajya Sabha nomination and a reprieve from the probe. Then Chief Minister Motilal Vora was too much in awe of Arjun Singh to resist him.

He subsequently left the IAS for politics, and had a long stint in the Congress organisation and a Member of Parliament before he rose to the helm in newly-carved out Chhattisgarh.

His confidence was exemplary. He would keep consulting media persons about the reforms to improve the lot of the socially oppressed classes.

As Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, a significant contribution was to secure the interests of migrant labour force. He brought legislation to help the labour force headed to states like Punjab and Haryana during paddy transplant season. He wanted the landlords to insure the workers and see that they lived some dignity.

However, the Congress could not retain the state in the state's first Assembly polls in 2003 and the BJP, under Raman Singh, began a three-term stint.

In June 2007, Jogi and his son were arrested in connection with the murder of NCP treasurer Ram Avtar Jaggi, who was shot dead in June 2003. But, five years later, the CBI said Jogi could not be prosecuted under any law. The BJP then alleged the UPA government misused the CBI to protect Jogi.

Jogi's Scheduled Tribe status certificate issued by a Pendra tehsildar in 1967 kept haunting him till recent times. The issue has remained unresolved. Jogi challenged the adversaries both in the Congress and the BJP who would not let him wriggle out.

Jogi's penchant for intrigues sometimes left a hilarious trail. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he was contesting against Chandulal Sahu of the BJP in Mahasamund. In a close contest, Jogi lost by just over 100 votes. Surprisingly the second, third and even the fourth runners up were all named Chandulal Sahu. They were all independents.

The second and third runners up, between them, polled 28,000 votes. It was easy to guess who set them up to baffle the supporters of original Chandulal Sahu. Such smart moves did not always yield the desired result, though.

In 2015, some audio tapes were found featuring a year-old conversation showing Jogi prompting his own party candidate to pull out of the contest to help the BJP win the Antagarh reserved seat. Then Chief Minister Raman Sngh's son-in-law Puneet Gupta allegedly brokered the pay-off. Congress office-bearers expressed shock over Jogi and his son's involvement in the act. Congress had smelt a rat when party candidate Manturam Pawar had withdrawn from the contest.

On June 6, 2016, Jogi announced ending his association with Congress in the presence of his wife and son in Chhattisgarh. The party eventually had to jettison Jogi, who set up his Janta Congress Chhattisgarh. However, his party's performance in the 2018 elections – in which the Congress swept back to power with a thumping majority – was sub par and it has little to brag about its status now.



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