The decision by Jignesh Mevani to contest the Gujarat Assembly polls as an independent candidate may help him emerge as the icon of Dalit youth aspiring for social and economic justice. It is a formidable challenge to the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development that promotes the interests of crony capitalists.
No one knew this 36-year-old Dalit lawyer-cum-journalist till last year. He shot to national fame when he led a campaign for the rights of Dalits after the infamous Dalit flogging incident in which self-proclaimed cow vigilantes had tortured four Dalit youth for skinning a dead cow.
Mevani had then led a Dalit Asmita Yatra from Ahmedabad to Una in which over 20,000 men and women participated. There followed a state-wide ‘Satyagraha’ by Dalit youth who refused to remove cow carcasses.
Mevani gave the Dalit movement a new turn by demanding five acres of land to the landless youth from the surplus land acquired by the government under the Land Acquisition Act.
Born on December 11, 1982, Mevani completed his graduation in English literature in 2003 and a Diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication after which he worked for the Gujarati magazine Abhiyan from 2004 to 2007. He also has a degree in law in 2013.
Mevani joined the Aam Aadmi Party as a member but quit when he found the party vacillating on the issue of reservation for SC, ST and OBCs.
After the dates of elections to Gujarat Assembly were announced, Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki, at a press conference, invited Mevani and OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch leader Alpesh Thakore to contest on Congress party tickets.
While Thakore accepted the Congress offer and joined the party at a massive rally organised by his Thakore Sena in the state capital in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, Jignesh said he would not join any political party.
He kept everyone guessing about his next political move even as Jignesh began addressing meetings of Dalit men and women in smaller towns of Gujarat making people take a pledge in the name of Dr B R Ambedkar to defeat the BJP in not only the forthcoming Assembly elections but also the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In what can be described as a tactical move, Jignesh, while talking about issues concerning Dalits, also expressed solidarity with farmers, Patels, OBCs and Muslims, describing BJP as the ‘common enemy’.
Jignesh announced his decision to contest the Assembly election from Vadgam, a seat reserved for the SC in Banaskantha district. In an appeal to all political parties, other than the BJP, he urged them not to field their candidates against them so that there is a direct contest between him and BJP.
“Vadgam has a huge Dalit and Muslim population which will support me. There are also a large number of OBC members. The Bananskantha Dalit Sangathan is very strong in the area and it will work in our favour,” he said exuding confidence about his victory.
By deciding to contest the election as an independent candidate, Jignesh has decided not to be bound by the discipline of any political party which would keep him free to carry out struggle for social and economic justice for the Dalits. Clearly, Jignesh has long-term plans for his public life.