Ajit Jogi
Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi | @ajitjogi_cg | Twitter
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Raipur: Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh that became a state two decades ago, died in Raipur Friday after a prolonged illness. He was 74.

Jogi was admitted to Raipur’s Shree Narayana Hospital earlier this month after he suffered a cardiac arrest, and had been in a critical condition since.

His son Amit Jogi broke the news of his death on Twitter.  

Amit Jogi, the president of Janata Congress Chhattisgarh Jogi (JCCJ), also said the former CM’s last rights will be performed Saturday at Gaurella, his place of birth.

In a statement, the hospital said Jogi’s condition deteriorated around 1.30 pm Friday after he suffered another cardiac arrest.

Jogi’s stint as Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister lasted all of just three years, but the veteran politician is credited for painstakingly creating the roadmap for development in the state.

Known to be a political survivor, Jogi continued to play a key role in Chhattisgarh politics despite a road accident in 2004, which left him paralysed below the waist. He, however, never regained power after losing the 2003 assembly elections. 

A Congressman for nearly 30 years, Jogi had launched Janata Congress Chhattisgarh Jogi (JCCJ) in 2016.

The veteran politician was born on 29 April, 1946, into a tribal family in what is now the Gaurella-Pendra-Marwahi district in Chhattisgarh. His family was so impoverished that Jogi had to walk barefoot to school in the then undivided Madhya Pradesh. 

During a media interaction last year, Jogi said his parents’ decision to convert to Christianity had immensely helped his educational prospects.

The former chief minister had impressive credentials.  

In 1967, he secured a mechanical engineering degree with a gold medal from the Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, then called Regional Engineering College, in Bhopal. In 1968, he cracked the UPSC exam in his first attempt and was selected in the Indian Police Service (IPS). 

Two years later, in 1970, Jogi cleared the exam again and this time made the cut for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). He still holds the national record for serving as a district collector for the longest duration — Jogi had served in various districts of the then undivided MP for 14 long years.  

Also read: Ajit Jogi played in Congress’ big-boy league, convinced each camp he was their ‘utility’ man

Arjun Singh & a political debut 

In his long career in the civil services, Jogi had developed good relations with several political veterans but the one that propelled him to politics was his proximity to the then chief minister, Arjun Singh. 

Their ties developed as it suited their mutual aspirations.  

Singh was looking for a stronger and reliable face from the Chhattisgarh region to counter his political rivals — the Shukla brothers Vidya Charan and Shyama Charan. For Jogi, there was no better mentor than Singh, not only a shrewd politician but also one who then held all the aces in a bitterly-divided MP Congress.  

The relationship also helped Jogi establish close ties with the Congress high command — the Gandhis.  

According to Jogi, he was the Indore district collector in 1985 when one night, he received a phone call from the office of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, asking him to resign from the IAS and join the Congress. He was given just two-and-a-half hours to decide.

By midnight, Jogi resigned from the service and travelled to Bhopal with then state Congress president Digvijaya Singh to join the party. Arjun Singh was then the chief minister.   

After his formal entry into the party, Jogi was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a Congress ticket and continued to be a Rajya Sabha member from 1986 to 1998. Political circles in Chhattisgarh have always speculated that during his 12-year tenure as a Rajya Sabha member, Jogi went to the same church as interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi did, and this helped him enhance his proximity to the Congress first family. 

Jogi contested his first election in 1998, securing the Raigarh Lok Sabha seat. He, however, lost in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections from the Shahdol seat. Jogi also served as a Congress spokesperson from 1998 to 2000.

Also read: With 70% skilled labour gone, Chhattisgarh industries will struggle to resume work

Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister 

When Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, the Congress high command entrusted Jogi with the responsibility of heading the interim government in the newly formed state. 

Jogi’s proximity to the Gandhi family and his allegiance to the Arjun Singh camp immensely helped him beat the claims of his rivals — the Shukla brothers and Motilal Vora — to the CM post. Most of the MLAs in the new state were still supporters of Arjun Singh and Digvijaya Singh, and Jogi had their full support at the crucial juncture. The Congress high command also backed his case as it felt that the predominantly tribal state should have a tribal chief minister. 

Jogi’s stint in power, however, didn’t last long. He only served as CM from 2000 to 2003 before the Congress suffered a massive defeat in the 2003 assembly elections. Those polls started the 15-year reign of BJP chief minister Raman Singh, which only ended with his defeat in 2018.

Following the defeat, Jogi contested the 2004 Lok Sabha elections from the Mahasamund parliamentary constituency and won. It was during campaigning in these elections that Jogi met with a car accident that left him paralysed waist down.

He resigned from his seat in 2008 and entered the state assembly from his home constituency of Marwahi after the state elections that year.

Jogi vacated the seat later to again enter the Lok Sabha in 2009, this time from Mahasamund. After his 2009 triumph, Jogi tried to develop Mahasamund seat as a stronghold but he received a major setback in 2014 when he lost this seat to BJP’s Chandu Lal Sahu by a thin margin of 133 votes. 

That election attracted controversy as there were 11 other Chandu Lal Sahus in the fray — it was believed to be a handiwork of Jogi. 

His close defeat in the Lok Sabha polls was the beginning of the end for Jogi’s association with the Congress. In the same year, there was a bypoll to the Antagarh assembly constituency. The Congress had nominated Manturam Pawar as its candidate. Pawar was considered quite close to Jogi. 

On the last day for withdrawal of nominations, Pawar surprisingly withdrew his candidature without informing the party leadership. A year later, in 2015, an audio tape surfaced that was purportedly a conversation between Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and Punit Gupta, son-in-law of former CM Raman Singh. 

The recordings revealed negotiations for the withdrawal of Pawar’s nomination in return for money. After the tapes surfaced, the Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee expelled Amit Jogi from the party and recommended that the Congress High Command ratify the decision. 

The high command, however, never formally expelled Jogi. 

Exit from Congress, a new party

While the Congress never expelled him, Jogi was isolated in the party due to the Antagarh scandal, with even his closest supporters ditching him.

In 2016, Jogi quit the Congress and formed the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh Jogi (JCCJ). Political analysis and experts had then predicted that the JCCJ may end the monopoly of the Congress and the BJP in Chattisgarh politics. But it never panned out. 

In the run up to the 2018 assembly elections, Jogi tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). It appeared a formidable alliance on paper, enough to cause a few upsets, but results proved otherwise.   

The JCCJ secured just five seats in the 90-member assembly. Two of the MLAs were Jogi, elected from Marwahi, and his wife Renu Jogi who won from Kota constituency.

Also read: Chhattisgarh fears fresh Covid wave as 14 migrant workers who returned test positive

The caste controversy

For much of his political career, Jogi was dogged by questions over his caste

The issue first hit headlines when Jogi won the assembly byelection in 2001 from the tribal seat of Marwahi. Sant Kumar Netam, a tribal leader, challenged the Jogis’ caste claims in the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. 

The commission issued a notice to the former chief minister but he approached the Chhattisgarh High Court. The court had in the same year dismissed the commission’s notice, ruling it had no powers to investigate the case.

Following this, the then Chhattisgarh deputy speaker and BJP leader Banwarilal Agarwal filed another petition in the high court in 2002 challenging Jogi’s caste. The court, however, refused to entertain Aggarwal’s petition without citing any reason.

The issue turned into a BJP-Congress political slugfest and remained alive throughout the years. In 2011, it received a fresh lease of life when Sant Kumar Netam approached the Supreme Court with a petition against Jogi. The SC, hearing the case, ordered the state government to get the matter inquired by a high-level committee in October 2011.

In 2013, the  high court, responding to another petition, asked the state government to submit all documents, from 1967, related to Jogi’s caste.

The Supreme Court mandated committee submitted its report in 2017, rejecting Jogi’s claims that he was a tribal, citing lack of evidence.

Jogi challenged the committee’s report in the Chhattisgarh High Court, which then ordered the state government to conduct another inquiry by a separate high-level committee.

The  government once again formed a new committee, which in September 2019 submitted a report sticking to the earlier stand that Jogi was not a tribal.

The 2019 report was a big setback for Jogi as his current status as an MLA from Marwahi assembly constituency is also in jeopardy. He had, however, approached the court again and the matter is still under consideration. 

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  1. We have no regrets in the passing away of this man. After all was he not the one who, as Collector of Indore, oversaw the mass killing of Sikhs subsequent to the death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi?

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