NEW DELHI: Once the tallest leader of Chhattisgarh, Ajit Jogi could turn out to be the kingmaker in the state in case neither the BJP, nor Congress gets outright majority. Many political leaders also feel that the 72-year-old — who was the state’s first Chief Minister — stands between the Congress and its hopes of wresting power in the state after three terms of BJP rule. Even leaders of his own party have accused Ajit Jogi of playing spoiler and helping the BJP.
Mr Jogi is keeping his cards close to chest, giving no hint which way he might lean if the state – which has a substantial population of tribals and Dalits — delivers a split verdict.

The veteran leader had been swift to forge an alliance with Mayawati after the Dalit leader ruled out any tie-up with the Congress in this round on election, as well as the CPI. He later boasted that the alliance with Mayawati took shape after a few hours of discussion with the Dalit leader.

For the Congress, the situation is vexing. Two years ago, the party had expelled Mr Jogi – a Congressman all his life – along with his son for anti-party activities. Mr Jogi has vowed to fight the Congress tooth and nail. He, however, said he would not talk against the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Mr Jogi has had a long association with the Nehru-Gandhi family, even though he was never on best of terms with Rahul Gandhi, who began to take an increasingly active role in the party since becoming its vice-president in January 2013.

A veteran of the Indian Police Service and the Indian Administrative Service, Mr Jogi was convinced by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to quit the services and join the Congress. And it was Gandhi family loyalists, Digvijaya Singh and Arjun Singh, who brought Ajit Jogi into political prominence.

Like Digvijaya Singh years later, Arjun Singh needed a counterweight to the Shukla brothers in the Chhattisgarh region and was keen on promoting a tribal leader. In 1986, Mr Jogi entered the Rajya Sabha, where he remained for two terms till 1998. In 1998, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Raigarh and won, but he lost a year later from Shahdol.

When Chhattisgarh was formed in 2000, the Congress which had 48 out of the 90 seats in the area, was keen on nominating a tribal as the chief minister of the newly formed state, where adivasis comprise over 30 per cent of the population.

Senior party leaders Vidya Charan Shukla and Shyam Charan Shukla were seen as the front-runners as they had dominated the Congress in the region. But since they were seen as rivals by Digvijaya Singh, then chief minister, the party looked towards the quiet but effective spokesperson Ajit Jogi, who was considered a political lightweight back then.

Ajit Jogi’s tenure as chief minister wasn’t an easy one as he faced opposition from the BJP as well as within the Congress.

One of the allegations he had to face was that he isn’t a tribal in the first place but belonged to the Satnami community, which was in the Scheduled Caste category. But it was alleged that since Mr Jogi’s grandfather had converted to Christianity, he wasn’t even eligible to claim Scheduled Caste status.

The issue lingered on even after Mr Jogi’s tenure as chief minister ended. Earlier this year, a court upheld Mr Jogi and his son Amit Jogi’s claim of belonging to the Kanwar tribal community.

The whisper campaign by his opponents as well as allegations of his son’s involvement in the murder of Nationalist Congress Party state treasurer Ram Avtar Jaggi harmed Mr Jogi’s prospects in the 2003 assembly elections, which the Congress lost to the BJP.

The party, however, decided to field Mr Jogi in the Lok Sabha elections next year from Mahasamund against Vidya Charan Shukla, who then was fighting on a BJP ticket.

During the campaign, Mr Jogi was injured in a car accident which left him partially paralysed. He won the seat by nearly 1.2 lakh votes, defeating five-time winner Mr Shukla.

It was the only seat the Congress won in Chhattisgarh in that election, sealing Mr Jogi’s status as the tallest party leader in the state. The Congress projected Mr Jogi once again in the 2008 assembly elections, but lost to the BJP under Dr Raman Singh. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Ajit Jogi was fielded from Mahasamund once again but he lost to the BJP candidate by a few hundred votes.

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