Articulated, left-leaning, self-made Congress Trump: BJP can deny but can’t ignore Jignesh Mevani

In 2017, when three youths emerged on the political scene in Gujarat as leaders, after leading successful agitations, the BJP appeared shaken, given that Assembly elections were due later this year.

Five years later, two of the three – Hardik Patel, who led the Patidar quota agitation and is now the sitting president of Congress, and Alpesh Thakor, who led the OBC agitation and is now with the BJP – do not worry the ruling party. , as much as Jignesh Mevani. A former journalist, lawyer, activist and now an independent MP from Vadgam’s reserved constituency in Gujarat, Mevani’s “left-wing leanings” put him beyond the reach of the BJP.

Mevani, who pledged to support Congress, was slapped with two criminal cases in Assam where the BJP is in power and is currently in pretrial detention. The MP, who has been under police protection provided by the Gujarat government since 2017, following a ‘security assessment’, was arrested by Assam police late night last week at the home of government circuit in Palanpur following an FIR objecting to a tweet from him that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A vocal critic of the BJP and its ideological source RSS not only in Gujarat but also in other states, Mevani, 42, had brought to light as a result of an agitation he led on the public flogging of Dalits in Una, Gujarat, in 2016.

Many BJP leaders admit the party has not been comfortable with Mevani’s rise. A senior BJP leader said: “From the beginning, Hardik and Alpesh didn’t really concern the party. Ideologically, the two are not very far from the principles of our party. But, due to his left-wing thinking, Mevani politically symbolizes a culture alien to Gujarati society. Our party worries about the seeds of this ideology, although Mevani is almost in Congress now. Mevani pledged to support Congress last year although he remains an independent lawmaker and is expected to get a congressional ticket in the next election.

According to a state-based political observer, “Of the three youth leaders, the BJP has already had Alpesh in its fold. Hardik is very unhappy with the state leadership of Congress and is now praising the BJP. Mevani is the only one who seems certain not to join or align with the BJP.

Moreover, underlines the observer, “While the BJP tries to dismantle the Congress across the country, Mevani is one of the key figures in a new young team that Rahul Gandhi is trying to put together to revive the party.

A senior Gujarat BJP leader, however, denies the party is particularly concerned about Mevani. “I don’t think there is a specific ploy to tackle him by our party. In fact, there are some people our party doesn’t bother to negotiate with at all because of fundamental differences with them. And Mevani is one of those rare people in Gujarat.

The chief also notes that Mevani has been clashing with the government for a long time. “He was never targeted for this.”

Another BJP leader argues that rather than helping the BJP, the arrest will only help Mevani. “Politically, he looked finished before these cases were filed against him. The cases provided him with oxygen to survive. He only has nuisance value in the political scenario of Gujarat but his voice matters in places where there is a high presence of Dalits, Muslims and Tribals outside of Gujarat.

According to this leader, the only reason the police may have booked Mevani is that “something very serious must have been found against him”.

There is another reason why Mevani is different from Hardik and Alpesh. Unlike the latter two, who represent the Patels and OBCs, important communities for the BJP, Mevani is a Dalit, who makes up only around 7% of the state’s population.

The BJP is not so afraid of the impact of Dalit anger in Gujarat as the community has always traditionally aligned itself with the Congress. The Patels, who make up 12% of the state’s population, have traditionally been BJP loyalists. OBCs constitute more than 50% of the population and tribals 14%.

This is why the BJP government in Gujarat had moved quickly to appoint a commission for non-segregated classes following the Patidar agitation led by Hardik. Recently, Bhupendra Patel’s government filed demands in the courts for the withdrawal of 10 of the nearly 200 cases against Patidars related to the 2015 quota agitation, a day before Hardik launched an agitation for the same. After the magistrates’ court on Monday refused to withdraw one of the 10 cases in which Hardik is a defendant, the state went to the Court of Sessions to challenge the magistrate’s order.

This contrasts with the reaction of the government on Dalit issues. An investigation report by a former IAS officer into three Dalits shot dead during a protest in Thangadh in 2012 has not been made public by the government. In 2019, a Special Court in the Deesa District of Banaskantha ordered the Department of Social Welfare to recover the amount of compensation paid to Dalit victims in three cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, after that two of the cases could not be established in court while one was only partially established. The Gujarat government has yet to appeal the order.

The BJP, which does not even have a senior Dalit leader, recently enthroned Manibhai Vaghela. The latter had incidentally quit Congress after the party backed Mevani from Vadgam’s seat in the 2017 assembly elections. Vaghela had been the sitting MP for the seat.

Congress was unable to make much noise about Mevani’s arrest. As Gujarat CCP Chairman Jagdish Thakor rushed to the airport, from where Mevani was being flown to Assam, his protests have since been lukewarm. The party’s legal team is however fighting his case in Assam.

Manish Doshi, spokesperson for the Gujarat Congress, says the party fully supports Mevani. “This perception (that Congress is not raising the issue of Mevani’s arrest as it should) is created by limited people who are ideologically not with the party. We held protests across the state. The party also provided him with the best of lawyers,” he says.

And the turmoil goes beyond Mevani, Doshi adds. “Our fight is against the autocracy set up by the BJP. Today it’s Mevani, tomorrow it could be someone else. Congress has raised the issue and will continue to do so in the coming days and we seek everyone’s cooperation.

Others believe that even though the BJP might try to downplay Mevani, the party would spare no effort to ensure that he is not active in Gujarat in the assembly elections. “He is one of the few Gujarat Congress leaders who has integrity and commands respect from the youth. Among the key Gujarat Congress leaders who are mostly sons of prominent Congressmen, Mevani is a man who raised himself alone… His imprisonment in criminal cases in a state as far away as Assam would hugely affect Mevani’s mobility in Gujarat,” an Ahmedabad-based activist says.

Some believe that Mevani’s arrest could be a signal that there could be “snap elections in Gujarat”. “The BJP may be trying to keep him busy with criminal cases so he cannot fully participate in the elections. The BJP would also like to see him from behind so that he does not become a member of the Gujarat Assembly again,” says an observer.

Yagnesh Dave, the head of Gujarat BJP’s media cell, says it is wrong to drag the party into the Mevani affair. “Our party has no serious problem with him (Mevani). If that had been the case, the BJP of Gujarat would have filed a complaint against him. As for Gujarat BJP, he is an honorable member of Vadgam.

Regarding the case against Mevani, Dave says: “A legal action had to be taken after a complaint of violation of the law there. Gujarat Government or Gujarat BJP are not concerned with this.

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