There is a definite undercurrent against Modi: Jignesh Mevani

Mevani, a Dalit youth leader and Congress MLA from Gujarat’s Vadgam, in conversation with Amey Tirodkar on the party’s prospects in Gujarat and the winds of change sweeping the country

Jignesh Mevani (photo: PTI)
Jignesh Mevani (photo: PTI)

Amey Tirodkar

‘Ab ki baar, 400 paar’ was the BJP slogan, but since polling began on 19 April, the party has not talked about it...

The way South India responded—and they must be getting feedback from their workers, from the RSS, from IB (Intelligence Bureau)—things are not going in their favour. I don’t want to [indulge in] wishful thinking, but they lost in the first phase. And the bravado of getting 26 out of 26 in Gujarat and 400 nationally is punctured.

Do you think the talk about changes in the Constitution if they get 400+ seats has percolated to the ground? Especially among the SC/ST and other minorities?

I have no doubt about it. Three days after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar presented the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser wrote that we don’t want Ambedkar’s Constitution, we want it replaced with Manusmriti.

Lots of people like Anant Kumar Hegde have claimed that they are here to change the Constitution. Many people in the RSS have written and talked about it. I am afraid they will further distort our social fabric. They will definitely tamper with and distort the Constitution.

It is a dangerous situation. Dalit, Adivasi, tribal communities, minorities, OBCs and a lot of liberal, progressive people are seriously worried about it.

In the last two elections, the BJP made a clean sweep of Gujarat...

Not this time—110 per cent! We have an alliance with the AAP. We are fighting well in Patan, Banaskantha, Anand, Valsad, Junagadh, Rajkot...

Where are you getting the idea that the Congress can stop the BJP in Gujarat? Is it because of the Kshatriya protest?

It’s the arrogance of the BJP. The language used by Parshottam Rupala is not just against the Kshatriya community, it is against all women. He said some nasty things and the BJP did not act against him. This arrogance of the BJP will hurt them.

But just one and a half years ago the Congress was routed in the Assembly election.

Yes, the Congress could win only 17 seats; we had 77 in 2017 and dropping to 17 was certainly a debacle. A lot of people quit the party. But the momentum of the Lok Sabha election has shifted, it’s in our favour.

Youth and women have been the backbone of the BJP’s electoral success in the past 10 years…

Our (medal-winning) women wrestlers had to protest on the streets of Delhi for more than 100 days, demanding an FIR against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (a BJP MP and former president of the Wrestling Federation of India).

Similarly in Manipur. Here in Gujarat, they released the rapists of Bilkis Bano. I don’t think this is going down well with the women of Gujarat.

The youth too seem to support the BJP...

The youth are actually frustrated. Almost 65 per cent are below the age of 35–40. They want jobs. Where are the jobs? Modi doesn’t even talk about it. He promised to create 2 crore jobs a year; by now, he should have generated 20 crore jobs. Where are these jobs? He won’t even fill vacant positions in the government.

Your manifesto may be great, but is it reaching the masses?

Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, all our star campaigners are talking about it. I ask people at every rally: how many jobs will we give you? And the crowd says 30 lakh.

It means our manifesto is reaching the masses. We’re also making video clips and circulating it on WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. We’re making sure party workers know the promises in the manifesto.

What’s your answer to ‘If not Modi, then who?’

The people of India. Dr Ambedkar wrote that hero worship in politics is not good. We have the INDIA bloc; we will collectively decide.

You have been campaigning around the country. What are your observations?

There is a definite undercurrent against the Modi government. Finally, people have begun to realise that Mr Modi’s claims will not materialise, he can’t deliver. That realisation is growing among the masses.

I won’t claim that I have travelled all over, but I have been to Tamil Nadu, Assam, various parts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra etc., and I found that the people are really frustrated, and the Congress manifesto has caught their imagination.

(A longer version of this interaction originally appeared in Frontline)

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