Jignesh Mevani
Gujarat Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani addresses the media, at AICC Headquarters, in New Delhi on Monday Image Credit: ANI

Recently in India, Jignesh Mevani, Gujarat Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) was arrested for a sarcastic tweet against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on basis of an FIR filed in Kokrajhar, Assam, by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

Both BJP and its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) don’t take lightly any comment by Congress leaders linking them to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Rahul Gandhi is also facing a case for dragging RSS in Gandhi’s killing in a Bhiwandi court.

Mevani, Independent MLA of Vadgam, Banskantha, was arrested from Palanpur town in North Gujarat at midnight. Brought to Ahmedabad, he was flown to Guwahati, then taken to Khokrajar by road. The 2250km journey of Mevani was used to send out a stern message.

However, in an election year, it is considered a self-goal by the BJP as Mevani’s ground position has been strengthened. His nine day jail term and subsequent harassment will add to his solo efforts to emerge as youth leader in Gujarat.

Mevani has pledged support to the Congress and is all set to fight on a Congress ticket in coming election.

Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor — three youth leaders belonging to Dalit, Patel and Other Backward Class (OBC) caste, respectively — had kept pressure on the BJP in the 2017 elections. BJP’s lacklustre performance of 99 seats out of 182 was credited to the atmosphere created by these three young leaders.

Five years down the line, Hardik Patel and Thakor have lost the spunk.

Jignesh has retained credibility as the fearless young leader, who is refusing to budge before the BJP. But he too may also hit the roadblock soon.

BJP’s game plan

By taking action against Mevani, BJP will play upon the divide between Rahul Gandhi supported Mevani style of radical politics and the State Congress leaders need to cajole all kinds of Gujarati voters. After getting bail when Mevani arrived at Ahmedabad airport, no senior Congress leaders were present. They joined him, later, in the procession in Vadaj area.

Mevani’s strength is that he is working on real issues. He gained political heft after leading a movement against flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat. But, he built his real reputation by pinning down the state government to alloting land to landless Dalits under Agriculture Land Ceiling act.

In thousands of cases, allotment remained on paper but actual possession of land wasn’t given. Mevani, along with other activists, took help of RTI and the courts to fight the cases of land for Dalits.

The other youth leader, Hardik Patel led the Patel agitation successfully but after joining Congress, lost out even though he was made a working president. The appeasement of Patel beyond a point is precarious for Congress, which is dependent on votes of tribals, Dalits, Muslims and poor in villages. The state Congress leadership never liked Hardik because he is a Patel.

What Prashant Kishor could observe accurately before joining Congress, Hardik experienced after joining the party. Congress leaders have acquired an art of undeclared non-cooperation to sabotage any newcomer. Hardik, a case in point, gravitated towards the BJP.

Here, he will be limited to one-seat-wonder where he will be given a ticket to contest and will be asked to win it with support of the party infrastructure.

Alpesh Thakore’s position is more pathetic than Hardik’s. He led successful grass root agitation against social evils. In 2017, he joined Congress in presence of Rahul Gandhi. Won Radhanpur seat in North Gujarat. Came under pressure from the BJP.

In 2019, he resigned from the seat and Congress to join BJP. Fought again from the same seat and lost by 3500 votes because there was silent opposition from within the BJP. Fast forward to 2022, both Hardik and Alpesh’s courage has been effectively blunted.

Street smart politician

Only Jignesh has proved his worth against all odds. He is street smart but not a shrewd politician. Patel and Thakor are better at making political judgements and dealing with senior leaders and money power. Jignesh is a combination of political, social and legal activism. He belongs to the chamar community of Dalits.

Fortunately, his parents had steady jobs, so he never faced stark adversities like many chamar families. He was brought up in a middle class area of Meghani Nagar in Ahmedabad and studied in the prestigious H. K. Arts College. He has a law degree, as well.

Mevani is well-read, remembers hundreds of poems and ghazals and has done some brilliant research on late “Gujarati Ghalib of Ghazal” poet Abbas Vasi, popular as Mareez.

However, in the coming elections as he will be formally joining Congress, ‘established forces’ of BJP and Congress both will soon brand him a mere Dalit leader.

A senior Congressman condescendingly called him: saat takano neta (leader of 7% Dalits of Gujarat).

After the victory of 2017, Jignesh spent lots of time outside Gujarat where he tried to fill the vacuum as Mayawati’s stature was on the ebb. But, political forces don’t prefer exclusive Dalit and Muslim leaders at the national level. Mevani may face expected turbulence after joining Congress.

While talking about the scope of Mevani in elections, a senior Congress leader said, “Mevani would be used in Dalit localities. Not outside of it.”

This is Mevani’s dilemma. In Gujarat’s political ground, dominated and controlled by the BJP, his radical views have few takers. Jignesh wants to be a national leader on Congress platform, but his identity of “Dalit leader of Gujarat” would limit his party politics.

The plight of Patel, Thakor and Mevani explains why Prashant Kishor formed his own regional outfit.