Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, who fancies himself as kingmaker - if not king - in case of a split verdict in next month's state election, says he will not rule out anything, even a tie-up with the ruling BJP, despite his intense rivalry with Chief Minister Raman Singh.
The entry of Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh party has converted the direct contest between the BJP and the Congress into a three-way battle - much in the pattern of Karnataka, where the Congress's last-minute alliance with HD Kumaraswamy kept the BJP out of power.
"In politics you can't rule out anything. So anything can happen. But I'm quite certain that eventuality will not arise," Mr Jogi told NDTV's Prannoy Roy when asked whether he would accept support from the BJP, if it came to that.
Chhattisgarh is staring at a very close fight where even a small swing can make a big impact.
Ajit Jogi, a Congressman all his life before he was expelled two years ago, is expected to dent the votes of his former party. His tie-up with Mayawati came after she ruled out any alliance with the Congress in this round of assembly elections. A Congress-Mayawati combo would have been difficult to beat, especially with the BJP battling anti-incumbency after 15 years in power.
Mayawati ruled out any tie-up with the Congress in the current round of elections as seat-sharing talks for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh failed to produce the results she wanted.
Asked whether she will be open to a tie-up with the BJP, Mr Jogi said, "I don't think she would like... But we're not talking to her, we are only working for our alliance and we are together".
When pressed, Mr Jogi, 72, amended: "I've not talked to her in person about her equation with BJP or the Congress... That's what I read in newspapers." He had earlier claimed that his alliance with Mayawati was the result of a few hours of conversation.
There was no chance of his return to the Congress "as of now", Mr Jogi said, though he claimed a good personal equation with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi even now.
For a state where nearly 30 per cent of the population comprises Scheduled Castes and tribals, Mr Jogi's alliance with Mayawati is strategic. It is also one, he hopes, will help him reach the majority in the 90-member assembly.
Mr Jogi seemed far less amenable to Chief Minister Raman Singh of the BJP. "We are not personal enemies but Dr. Raman Singh has tried to harm me personally a number of times," Mr Jogi said. "There was a case of murder against me, filed by him, in which the judge very next day discharged me because it was frivolous. Then there was a case of robbery... Sitting on a wheelchair, allegedly, I was accused of robbing 10,000 rupees worth gold chain and a camera... that also got dismissed by the court. Then about my caste, I am the only person according to Dr. Raman Singh, who does not have a caste."
The state, where the first phase of assembly elections has been held in Maoist-dominated areas, will have the second round on November 20. The counting of votes will take place on December 11.
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