Crashing The Party:
- BJP clearly way ahead of rivals.
- If sympathy for Ajit Jogi persists, then Congress may pick up a seat or two.
- Minus Jogi, Congress campaign fast losing steam.
- Judeo’s absence a setback for BJP campaign.
The shadow of Ajit Jogi looms large over the political landscape of Chhattisgarh, despite his physical removal from the electoral scene following a near-fatal road accident last fortnight. Sympathy for Jogi is pitted against a palpable pro-Atal wave in both urban and rural segments. But will the sympathy endure till the polls?
Prayer meetings for Jogi’s quick recovery, candle-light processions, Quran readings, paaths in gurudwaras, posters on his plight and a surfeit of soundbites are all part of the effort to keep Jogi top of the mind for the electorate of Mahasamund, where he battles the hoary but formidable Vidya Charan Shukla. The BJP and its star campaigner, ‘godman’ Pawan Dewan, suddenly find they are bereft of the anti-Jogi plank. After the accident, it has recast its campaign focusing on the Atal factor, and attacking Sonia’s foreign origin.
Jogi was the head and heart of the Congress campaign here—a void that the septuagenarian Motilal Vora, in charge of the state, is hard pressed to fill. Besides, Vora had strongly opposed Jogi’s nomination. The ex-CM’s centrality to the Congress campaign is obvious: while the party HQ in Raipur is perpetually deserted, Jogi’s house is a scene of frenetic activity, with party workers, MLAs and campaigners all milling around self-importantly.
The party’s prospects, which were tending towards zero, received a sudden fillip with Jogi’s eleventh hour reprieve from Sonia Gandhi, who not only revoked his suspension (in the wake of the cash for MLAs scam) but also mandated him to take on Shukla in Mahasamund. Despite his opponent being a seven-time winner, Jogi was confident. "There were easier seats, but I offered myself from Mahasamund," he said shortly before his accident.
Much of the confidence stemmed from the fact that the BJP’s state unit was not keen on Shukla’s victory, as that would mean contending with his interference in party affairs. Also going against Shukla is his penchant for switching parties. In the last one year, he has shifted from Congress to NCP to BJP. The irony of Shukla, the sword arm of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, accompanying deputy prime minister L.K. Advani—who was in jail during Shukla’s glory years—during his rath yatra was also not lost on the electorate.
What’s worrying the Congress is that perhaps the campaign in Mahasamund and surrounding areas was too Jogi-centric. Jogi spoke fluent Chhattisgarhi, could walk into the poorest of dwellings and share a meal while describing himself as their kamiyan (servant), which attracted voters. "It would be wonderful if he was here. But party workers are now doubly determined to win," says Raj Awasthi, a campaign manager. Rhetoric apart, Jogi’s supporters have no clear take of how to spin the election now.
The BJP camp is not devoid of problems either. A big setback has been the near absence from the scene of star campaigner Dilip Singh Judeo. Miffed at not being given the constituency of his choice, he has declined to contest and has confined himself to campaigning in two constituencies. The BJP cadre is also not enthused by the choice of Karuna Shukla, the PM’s niece, as its nominee from Janjgir. The blackout of a local cable channel after it carried anti-BJP news items has not gone down too well too. The local cable channel (Akash, believed to have been owned and operated by the Jogi clan) has been taken over by the brother of a BJP minister, renamed CNN and is now being accused of practising the same kind of censorship Jogi once did!
Jogi, meanwhile, is gung-ho and determined to direct operations from his hospital bed in Mumbai, although formal charge has been handed over to Vora.Says his son Amit: "He’s been insisting on being flown to Mahasamund by helicopter so that he can address a rally from his stretcher.He is being a really bad patient." But a good politician, no doubt.