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Jogi ropes in BJP MP to Cong fold

In a surprising move BJP MP and tribal leader PR Khunte joined the Congress in the presence of Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, protesting against disbursement of tickets in the party.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2003 18:47 IST
Pradip Kumar Maitra
Pradip Kumar Maitra

With electoral activities gaining momentum, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, gave a stunning blow to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party by winning over PR Khunte, a senior tribal leader and member of parliament (MP). Khunte joined the Congress amidst media glare at a function here.

A known adversary of Ajit Jogi, Khunte's decision to join Congress has left the BJP shocked. State BJP chief Raman Singh kept himself aloof from the media for greater part of the day and discussed the issue with party chief Venkaiah Naidu.

Khunte, who made the announcement to enter the Congress fold in the presence of Jogi also removed a black shawl, he was wearing for the last three years to protest against Jogi government after vowing to dislodge him from the post of Chief Minister. He replaced the black shawl with a Congress tricolour scarf.

Interestingly, Khunte was a police constable under Jogi during his stint as collector in Raipur and he was suspended by Jogi for `misconduct'. Ever since, Khunte was a vocal critic of Jogi. "There is no permanent enemies or permanent friends in politics," he quipped.

Talking to Hindustan Times, Khunte asserted there was no alternative to Jogi in Chhattisgarh and that's why he accepted his leadership and decided to join the Congress. Lashing out at the BJP leadership he said that the party is being controlled by upper caste and `baniyas' and there was no scope for the party workers, who belong to dalit, tribal and oppressed class.

According to BJP sources, Khunte was unhappy over the distribution of tickets. He, along with another tribal leader and sitting Lok Sabha member, Baliram Kashyap met senior party functionaries and lodged complaints against Lakhiram Agrawal and Karuna Shukla, a niece of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, about irregularities in distribution of tickets.

Meanwhile, at the BJP state office at Ekatmata Parisar there was a pall of gloom. Few leaders who were present were unable to comment on the development.

The panicky state BJP chief, Dr Raman Singh immediately contacted the party president, Venkaiah Naidu and apprised him about the development. Singh even told him to ensure the early disqualification of Khunte from the membership of Lok Sabha at the earliest.

Later Raman Singh reached the state party headquarters and was seen making attempts to bolster the "demoralised" party cadre. Reacting to the issue, Dr Singh said that it was an unfortunate development that Khunte has fallen pray to Jogi's machinations. He also alleged that a huge sum might have been exchanged to bring about Khunte's defection.

Terming it as a conspiracy, Singh reiterated that the defection, which has come as a surprise, would not affect the party's prospects in the December husting.

First Published: Nov 11, 2003 18:47 IST