It took Congress leader Ajit Jogi almost an hour to step out of his helicopter when he reached Rajnandgaon on Thursday evening to campaign. Wheelchair-bound after a car accident that nearly killed him four years ago, it takes him a long time to complete the most basic chores. But he is as fierce a fighter as ever seen in the electoral field.
His spinal chord, head, arms and legs were shattered in the accident. Recovery was slow, delayed further by a heart attack and a bypass surgery, but the engineer-turned-IAS-turned-former chief minister of the state believes that he is still the future of Chhattisgarh.
“If my government comes to power, we will provide unlimited rice to everybody at the rate of just Rs 2 per kg and put all the corrupt ministers behind bars,” he declared before a huge gathering.
Jogi still draws large crowds wherever he goes. His opponents in the Congress pooh pooh his pretensions of being chief minister again, saying Sonia Gandhi would decide who the chief minister would be if the Congress won the elections. But that doesn't stop Jogi.
At Rajnandgaon, he campaigns on behalf of Congress candidate Uday Mudaliar, whose opponent is none other than the chief minister himself, Raman Singh. Singh has chosen to shift here this time posing sitting MLA Mudaliar an unexpected and formidable challenge. But Jogi’s speech stirs up the crowd in Mudaliar’s favour.
In Delhi Jogi may articulate in flawless English, but in the hinterland he switches to Chhattisgarhi, and adopts a folksy style. “This matters a lot to the local populace, particularly in rural areas,” said Prabhat Agrawal of Durg. “Moreover, his present condition has generated sympathy among people.”
He is flooded with requests from candidates to address meetings in their constituencies. At last count, there were 180.
“Papa is doing eight to nine meetings a day, till 5 pm on the chopper and later till 10 pm by road. We hope to do 80 meetings over 15 days of campaign,” said son Amit.
“Yes, I am physically weak now,” conceded Jogi to HT. “But mentally I remain absolutely alert.”
The German-made wheelchair Jogi uses cost Rs 20 lakh. It was gifted to him by the Lok Sabha in 2006. He uses a custom made Tempo Traveller for his road travels.