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Indian state mourns pioneering Christian chief minister

Protestant Ajit Jogi, the first chief minister of Chhattisgarh, laid the foundations for helping the poor

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Indian state mourns pioneering Christian chief minister

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi receives traditional headwear from Chattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi on Aug. 19, 2001 during a rally for oppressed Dalits. Jogi, a Protestant Christian, died on May 29. (Photo: Ranjan Basu/AFP)

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People from all walks of life have paid glowing tributes to Ajit Jogi, a Christian and the first chief minister of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, who died of a cardiac arrest on May 29. He was 74.

Jogi was buried with full state honors on May 30 at his parish cemetery. The bureaucrat-turned-politician is survived by his legislator wife Renu Jogi and their son and former legislator Amit Jogi.

"Jogi is the main architect of Chhattisgarh state, and in his death we have lost a great leader who always put the state and its people first," said Archbishop Victor Hendry Thakur based in state capital Raipur.

Jogi became Chhattisgarh's first chief minister in 2000 when the state was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, purportedly to help the advancement of tribal people. The state mostly covered areas dominated by the indigenous communities, especially the Gond tribe.

Archbishop Thakur said: "Jogi was a highly qualified intellectual who laid the foundations for Chhattisgarh state as its first chief minister."

The archbishop told UCA News on June 1 that the foundations Jogi laid two decades ago helped Chhattisgarh to become one of the fastest-growing states in the country.

The state declared three days of official mourning soon after news of his death.

"He could connect with the people, which made him the most popular leader in the state even after losing power. He was also a born fighter," Archbishop Thakur said.

Jogi had a major road accident during an election campaign in 2004 and was wheelchair-bound since then.

"People mostly quit public life after such serious accidents, but the resilience in Jogi did not allow him to give up public life," the archbishop added.

In 2016, he quit the Congress party and founded Chhattisgarh Janata Congress.

"He never tried to hide his Christian identity and never exploited religion for political gains," Archbishop Thakur said.

Archbishop Thakur, just like many others, could not attend the funeral because of the restrictions on gatherings to check the spread of the coronavirus.

Jogi was a member of the Protestant Church of North India (CNI).

"We have lost a true patriot," said Reverend Anil Chauhan, an official of the CNI.

Jogi was "was a very dedicated Christian. He made it a point to attend church services as often as possible," Reverend Chauhan told UCA News on June 1.

He also visited temples and other religious worship places "without any discrimination among his people as a true statesman," he said. With his death, "the Christians particularly have lost a strong voice for them."

State Chief Minister Bupesh Baghel recalled Jogi's contribution in the development of the state and said Jogi "laid a roadmap for the development of the state and delivered an important role as a skilled politician and administrator in its progress."

Baghel, a minister in the Jogi government, said in his condolence message that Jogi set the "direction to work for the welfare of villages, the poor and farmers.

The opposition pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party also expressed condolences. State unit chief Vikram Usendi said Jogi "achieved the position he deserved, and based on his own merit."

"The development of Chhattisgarh and the welfare of the people were his priority, and he constantly worked for it. His death has left a vacuum that can never be filled," Usendi said.

Christians are a negligible minority in the state, forming less than 2 percent of some 33 million people. Hindus, including indigenous people, form more than 93 percent.

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