IT was midnight someday last week of October 2003. The weather was still playing hide and seek with winter to set in. A loud ring on my landline in Raipur's house woke me up. The person on the other side was straight and clear – Mukhyamantriji baat karna chahte hai. Aap Star News ke Dinesh Akula bol rehe hai na. (Chief Minister wants to talk to you. Are you Dinesh Akula of Star News.)
Akula suno. CM house aajao abhi – The voice was of Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh. No reasons were given, and the call went blank. Without giving a second thought, I rushed to the CM house and was escorted to the study room packed with a couple of state ministers, former DGP RLS Yadav and two unknown faces. The Chief Minister was fuming in anger and just shouted at me. "What kind of journalist you are. All wrong and concocted numbers you are showing." He was referring to a pre-poll survey by Star News the same evening, which projected an apparent defeat of Congress under the leadership of Jogi. BJP was given 51 seats, 2 for BSP, one independent and remaining 36 to Congress.
I felt something was missing. The vibrant and stalwart of Congress who made a dent into bigwigs and claimed the chief ministership of the newly carved state was not the same man who made news every minute.
I owe him for giving me a platform to rise as fast as I could in the first year of Star News launch. Chhattisgarh became the hotbed for political activities. From BJP state chief Nand Kumar Sai daughter missing to BJP chief minister candidate Dilip Singh Judeo caught on camera taking the alleged bribe and Mr. Jogi himself being caught forging the signature of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. Raipur was happening state capital as every day it looked as politicians were using gasoline to put off the political fire. It ignited, and stories erupted.
I knew Mr. Jogi from 1996 when he was trying to make a mark in the Chhattisgarh region. When I met him at his office in Katora Talab he showed me my article in Central Chronicle titled – Jogi blews bugle in Chhattisgarh – well framed and kept behind his desk.
982** 50000 was his personal number. Elections were at peak and he was busy campaigning. My office wanted a very important sound byte from him. I rushed to the police ground helipad and was literarily in tears to see his chopper take off. It means no byte till he returns late evening. I called his number – a lady spoke – "kaun". I said Dinesh Akula bol raha hun. Sir se baat karni hai. The voice changed into Jogi and said Akula kya hua. Urgent byte hai kya. I said, yes. And he obliged by landing back. I never in my life met any politician who obliged a junior reporter in this manner. Trust me – those who are in broadcast media would understand. Tell him it's breaking news – and hold your watch he will give precisely 10-second byte – if its headlines it would be 30 seconds and just a story he will speak at length minutes and minutes.
When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, along with his entire cabinet, was in Raipur for party executive meet. Mr. Jogi called me said he would go and meet Vajpayeeji. Why don't you do a story? I said many national media guys, including my seniors, would be there to cover. He said your angle would be different. When I saw him at the venue, I realised what he meant. He was wearing a saffron dress to meet the PM.
I felt weird when I was tipped off to cover an investigative angle where Mr. Jogi was supposed to bribe a BJP leader to break the party. And later, when he gave forged letter of support in Sonia Gandhi's name, which resulted in his expulsion. I covered the story, and he was bold enough to face the camera and speak at length on the issues.
I did not recollect a single moment when he refused to give me an interview. He even tried to motivate me to apply for a state journalist award.
I regret not keeping regular touch with him. He was not only a grassroot leader but a very learned one. He knew how to handle the bureaucracy because he was an IAS.
The last time I spoke was April 29, 2019 over the phone to wish him his birthday.
There are many incidents with him. It could take the shape of a book. But for now, I want to keep those memories with my self.
Some important points about him from other sources –
When Rajiv Gandhi convinced him to resign from IAS
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was on the lookout for fresh faces came across Jogi and convinced him to tender his resignation from the IAS post in 1986. With
Arjun Singh's support, he was elected to Rajya Sabha and the rest, as they say, is history.
With Rajiv's demise, Jogi worked his way up through the ranks and got close to PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri.
After it became clear that the reins of the grand old party will be in Sonia Gandhi's hands, the master politician started building a rapport with her after establishing a good relationship with her secretary, V George.
Convinced Sonia Gandhi to make him CM
When the state was formed in July 2000, Jogi was not even in the run for the top post but it is learned that he convinced Sonia Gandhi that as a former IAS officer he had all the required experience to lead the newly-formed state.
To everyone's surprise, Jogi was anointed as the CM on November 1, 2000 and the Congress government under his tenure lasted for 3 years, 34 days.
Jogi formed his own party Janta Congress Chhattisgarh in 2016 after he and his son were expelled due to anti-party activities as well as sabotaging a by-poll election in Antagarh.
Ajit Jogi is survived by his wife Dr Renu Jogi and son Amit Jogi.