‘Maine janam lei lien hain. Aapka Ashirwad chahiye.’
“I am born again. Need your blessings.”
The strange sounding proclamation is the catchphrase of the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (Jogi) for the Marwahi assembly by-election where Amit Jogi, son of late Ajit Jogi, is desperately trying to keep aloft the legacy of his father, the first chief minister of the state.
Rarely in electoral history does future of a political legacy depend so much on the outcome of a by-elections as it is this time in this tribal dominated seat that fell vacant following the demise of senior Jogi earlier in May.
To retain the family pocket borough, Amit Jogi is falling back on his late father’s popularity to the extent of even claiming that the late leader has ‘reincarnated’ as his grand-son, who was born on August 4.
Posters and pamphlets, showing Amit’s new-born child on Ajit Jogi’s lap, have been widely circulated by the JCC (J) with the above mentioned message in Hindi, which can be loosely translated as, “I have taken rebirth. Need your blessings.”
This tribal reserved constituency has been consistently electing a Jogi as its representative since 2003. Ajit Jogi won the seat thrice—in 2003, 2008 and 2018. Amit Jogi successfully contested the seat in 2013.
This time, however, for the Jogi clan the battle is much more complicated. The JCC is not even sure whether Amit could eventually contest the election this time as the ST status of the family is under scrutiny.
A high-powered committee set up by the state’s Congress government last year, cancelled the ST certificate of Ajit Jogi. Subsequently, an FIR was also filed against the bureaucrat-turned politician for allegedly obtaining the caste certificates fraudulently in 1967, taking the matter to the court.
Though Amit Jogi is expected to file his nominations for the seat, his party is apprehending that his candidature might get rejected on the issue of caste certificate. As plan ‘b’, the party was preparing to field Amit’s wife Richa Jogi as an alternative candidate.
Even she has now been issued a show-cause notice by the district caste certificate investigation committee, asking her to furnish evidences to support her caste credentials failing which her certificate will be annulled.
The caste-certificate issue is just one of the challenges Jogi family is facing ahead of the by-poll, billed as a battle to ensure that the family’s political legacy remains intact.
The JCC is now mired in an existential crisis with almost all senior leaders having deserted it. Those who are still hanging on say that Amit, who has a Master degree in Politics and International Studies, from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi and a law degree from Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur, does not have the same aura and mass appeal as his father.
Late Ajit Jogi was a self-made man, who had journeyed from a remote forest village to the corridor of power. He became an Indian Police Services (IPS) officer in 1968 and later went on to crack the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) as well. He competed in both the examinations in general category.
He joined the Congress in 1986 to take a plunge in politics at the behest of his political mentor and former Chief Minister of undivided Madhya Pradesh Arjun Singh. Despite the Congress in Madhya Pradesh those days being studded with stalwarts like Arjun Singh himself, Digvijaya Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Motilal Vora, Shukla brothers — Vidya Charan and Shyama Charan— and Kamal Nath among others, Jogi could cut a niche for himself as a rising star of the party.
His moment of glory came when Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2020. Pulling a surprise, he out-manoeuvred senior leaders like Shukla brothers and Vora to become the first chief minister of the nascent state.
His stars, however, did not shine for long as he kept getting embroiled in one controversy after another. His caste status as a tribal was challenged and in a sting operation he was accused of trying to engineer a defection of a group of newly-elected BJP legislators soon after his government was dethroned in 2003.
Ajit Jogi was also accused of promoting nepotism in the party. In 2003 assembly elections, he compelled the party to cave in to his demand for a party ticket for his son Amit and wife Renu.
मरवाही उपचुनाव में सरकार और परिवार के बीच,जीत परिवार के प्यार की होगी।मुझे पापा के अधूरे काम और सपनों को पूरा करना हैं।बाक़ी लोगों के लिए ये चुनावी दंगल होगा, मेरे लिए पुत्र धर्म का निर्वहन।पापा के आशीर्वाद से 10 नवंबर को ही 4 दिन पहले मरवाही का मेरा परिवार दिवाली मनाएगा। pic.twitter.com/PsyuJP1oGH
— Amit Ajit Jogi (@amitjogi) September 30, 2020
His attempt to have a total control over the Congress in the state, giving prominence to his son and wife over other leaders made him more and more unpopular within the party, forcing him to quit it to float his own party.
In between, during electioneering for the Congress party in 2008, ever-smiling Jogi met with a near-fatal road accident, which left him paraplegic.
His son Amit is no less controversial either. He was an accused in the murder of former NCP leader Ramavtar Jaggi, who was shot dead in June 2003.
His name also figured in the Antagarh bypoll fixing scandal of 2014. In the by-poll, Congress candidate Manturam Pawar withdrew from the race without informing the party, giving a walkover to the BJP.
Later, an audio tape containing alleged phone conversations between Ajit Jogi, his son Amit, Pawar, Puneet Gupta (son-in-law of former chief minister and BJP leader Raman Singh) and others surfaced indicating that the by-poll was fixed.
Amit was suspended from the Congress after the tape had surfaced.
To his credit, senior Jogi fended off all odds with ease, continuing to remain a popular leader in the state, despite all the controversies.
Senior Jogi had a fascinating power to attract common people, said Yogesh Tiwari, the former general secretary of the JCC, who left the party after the demise of Ajit Jogi.
For the junior Jogi, the real challenge now is to match the charm of his father.
(with inputs from Abhijat Shukla in Raipur)