Recently in India, Jignesh Mevani, Member of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly (MLA) was arrested for a sarcastic tweet against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, based on an FIR filed in Kokrajhar, Assam, by a Bharatiya leader Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP and its parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) do not take Congress leaders’ comments linking them to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi lightly. Rahul Gandhi is also facing a case for involving RSS in Gandhi’s murder in a court in Bhiwandi.
Mevani, an independent MP for Vadgam, Banskantha, was arrested at midnight in the town of Palanpur in northern Gujarat. Brought to Ahmedabad, he was flown to Guwahati and then taken to Khokrajar by road. Mevani’s 2250km journey was used to send a stern message.
However, in an election year, this is seen as a personal goal by the BJP as Mevani’s position on the pitch has been strengthened. His nine-day prison sentence and ensuing harassment will add to his solo efforts to emerge as a youth leader in Gujarat.
Mevani is committed to supporting Congress and is ready to fight for a Congressional ticket in the upcoming election.
Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor – three young leaders from the Dalit, Patel and Other Backward Class (OBC) caste respectively – had kept the pressure on the BJP in the 2017 elections. was attributed to the atmosphere created by these three young leaders.
Five years later, Hardik Patel and Thakor have lost heart.
Jignesh has retained his credibility as a fearless young leader, who refuses to budge in front of the BJP. But he too could soon hit the roadblock.
The BJP game plan
By taking action against Mevani, the BJP will be playing on the divide between the radical Mevani style of politics supported by Rahul Gandhi and the state congress leaders having to cajole all sorts of Gujarati voters. After being released on bail when Mevani arrived at Ahmedabad airport, no senior Congress leader was present. They joined him, later, in the procession in the region of Vadaj.
Mevani’s strength is that he works on real subjects. He gained political clout after leading a movement against the flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat. But, he built his real reputation by forcing the state government to allocate land to landless Dalits under the Agricultural Land Cap Act.
In thousands of cases, the allocation remained on paper but actual possession of the land was not given. Mevani, along with other activists, took the help of RTI and the courts to fight land cases for Dalits.
The other youth leader, Hardik Patel led the Patel agitation successfully but after joining Congress he lost even though he was made incumbent president. Appeasement of Patel beyond a point is shaky for Congress, which depends on the votes of tribals, Dalits, Muslims and the village poor. The state congressional leadership never liked Hardik because he’s a Patel.
What Prashant Kishor was able to observe with precision before joining the Congress, Hardik experienced it after joining the party. Congressional leaders have learned the art of undeclared non-cooperation to sabotage any newcomer. Hardik, for example, turned to the BJP.
Here he will be limited to a place-wonder where he will receive a ticket for the competition and will be invited to win it with the support of the party infrastructure.
Alpsh Thakore’s position is more pathetic than Hardik’s. He successfully led popular agitation against social evils. In 2017, he joined the Congress in the presence of Rahul Gandhi. Won the Siege of Radhanpur in North Gujarat. Came under pressure from BJP.
In 2019, he resigned from the seat and from Congress to join the BJP. Fought again from the same seat and lost by 3500 votes because there was silent opposition within the BJP. Fast forward to 2022, Hardik and Alpesh’s mettle has been effectively dulled.
street smart politician
Only Jignesh has proven his worth against all odds. He’s street smart but not a savvy politician. Patel and Thakor are better at making political judgments and dealing with senior leaders and the power of money. Jignesh is a combination of political, social and legal activism. He belongs to the Chamar community of Dalits.
Fortunately, his parents had stable jobs, so he never faced harsh adversities like many Chamar families. He was raised in a middle class neighborhood of Meghani Nagar in Ahmedabad and studied at the prestigious HK Arts College. He also has a law degree.
Mevani reads well, remembers hundreds of poems and ghazals and did brilliant research on the late poet “Gujarati Ghalib of Ghazal” Abbas Vasi, popular as Mareez.
However, in the upcoming elections, when he officially joins the Congress, the “established forces” of the BJP and Congress will soon brand him a mere Dalit leader.
A senior congressional official called him condescendingly: saat takano neta (leader of the 7% Dalits of Gujarat).
After the 2017 win, Jignesh spent a lot of time away from Gujarat where he tried to fill the void as Mayawati’s stature dwindled. But the political forces do not prefer exclusive Dalit and Muslim leaders at the national level. Mevani could face expected turmoil after joining Congress.
While talking about Mevani’s reach in the elections, a senior Congress leader said, “Mevani would be used in Dalit localities. Not outside of that.
This is Mevani’s dilemma. On the political terrain of Gujarat, dominated and controlled by the BJP, his radical views have few takers. Jignesh wants to be a national leader on the Congress platform, but his identity as a “Gujarat Dalit leader” would limit his partisan politics.
The fate of Patel, Thakor and Mevani explains why Prashant Kishor formed his own regional team.