Caste

No Longer 'Tribals', Ajit and Amit Jogi Must Now Forge Their Own Political Identity

Ajit has rejected the report of the panel constituted to probe his tribal status, calling it a "Bhupesh Baghel committee".

Former chief minister Ajit Jogi has been declared a “non-tribal” by a Supreme Court mandated high powered committee set up by the Chattisgarh state government. He had abandoned his “possible Scheduled Caste” status long ago and his son Amit voluntarily gave up his American citizenship to contest and win a tribal assembly seat. Now with their tribal certificates confiscated by the Bilaspur collector, the family is left to fend for themselves in the courts.

Seeing that Ajit has become a “non-tribal” with immediate effect, his membership in the state assembly from the tribal seat of Marwahi is now certain to go unless he is able to obtain a stay from the Supreme Court. That is highly unlikely, considering that the high powered committee itself was the result of a Supreme Court order given in October 2011. The apex court had heard a petition filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sant Kumar Netam. What both father and son are now likely to face is further heat under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Ajit Jogi has rejected the report of the panel, calling it a “Bhupesh Baghel committee”. Amit has dismissed the report as vendetta. Chhattisgarh chief minister Baghel, on his part, rejects the claim saying the whole process had been started by the BJP and not him, and that it has only come to a conclusion now.

In its 29-page report, the three main reasons cited by the D.D. Singh committee are:

a) the nayab tehsildar of Pendra was not the competent authority in 1967 to issue a certificate and the Pendra church’s records were an irrelevant source. It held that nor was the Indore tehsildar authorised to do the same as Pendra did not fall in Indore’s jurisdiction,

b) No one else from Jogi’s family has taken advantage of the Scheduled Tribe status, nor had they applied for it, it says. His status is not mentioned in his land records or records of land sale and purchase by his family.

c) No Kanwar tribal has ever married into the Jogi extended family. For all practical purposes he is considered a Satnami (Dalit).

Also read: We Are Witnessing the End of Ajit Jogi’s Political Career

It is notable that it has taken more than 18 years to decide whether Jogi was a tribal or not. In this time, he has been a Member of Parliament, member of state Assembly and indeed chief minister of a state.

The certificate to Jogi was first issued in 1967 by the nayab tehsildar of Pendra and later by the tehsildar of Indore where Jogi was, in fact, once district magistrate. The courts were first approached in 2000 by a team of three Indore-based men. One of them was a lawyer who was backed by a journalist and a businessman. Nothing came off the initial case as Jogi eventually managed to contest from tribal seat of his choice — Marwahi in the Bilaspur district.

This is the second time Ajit Jogi has been  declared non-tribal by the high powered committee. The first time was in 2018 before the assembly elections but at that time, he got a stay from the Bilaspur high court on a technical ground that the committee was headed by someone who is also the tribal department secretary and who thus could not act on her own order.

“It is clear from the finding of the new committee that Jogi and Raman Singh were one. They put on a show of discord but the delay was deliberate and actually worked in Singh’s favour who knew Jogi’s presence was important to split Congress votes either from within or without,” said an office bearer of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) who was once a typist in Amit Jogi’s office but has since joined the Baghel camp in the state Congress.

Eventually, Sant Kumar Netam approached the central Tribal Commission to declare Jogi a non-tribal in 2009. The Commission found Jogi was indeed a non-tribal. But the Bilaspur high court struck the observation down, stating that such a declaration was beyond the commission’s purview.

Netam went to the Supreme Court with his appeal. The apex court asked the state government in October 2011 to form a high powered committee and dispose off the matter in two months. But the two months stretched to two years before Raman Singh formed the Reena Baba Kangale committee in 2013. The committee ambled along, most Congress workers to believe that Jogi may have helped Raman Singh win the 2013 assembly elections.

Also read: The Ever-Changing Gears of Ajit Jogi

Meanwhile, by 2014, Bhupesh Baghel became the PCC president and immediately set about removing the Jogis from the party. He succeeded with the help of audio tapes which detailed how Jogi had allegedly sold the Antagarh by-election to the BJP in 2015.

By 2016, the Jogis were forced to break away and form their own party, the Janta Congress Chhattisgarh. Quite notably, through all of this, Jogi managed to project his tribal status while the Scheduled Caste Satnamis continued to see him as one of their own. He even sprung a surprise in October 2018 by tying up with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party for the assembly elections. It did not help Mayawati at all but Jogi managed to win five seats of his own.

He is now at the end of a rollercoaster career.

The mess is of his own making because of his belief that the tribal status somehow gave him an edge over others in Congress. He had not used the certificate thus obtained to clear the Civil Service exams twice — in 1967 and 1969.

On his own, he is capable of winning any seat in the state as he demonstrated in 2004 by defeating veteran V.C. Shukla but with his much vaunted tribal identity gone, he may now be forced to concentrate on the 10 Scheduled Caster seats in the state for his party. As for himself and Amit, neither of them may be able to contest an election again, if Baghel has his way and the Election Commission agrees.