|Jignesh Mevani with Kanhaiya Kumar|
In a late night development, top Gujarat Dalit rights leader Jignesh declared he was “canceling” his highly-publicized rail roko (block the trains) agitation, which was to begin on October 1 at 10 am, at Maninagar, former state assembly constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad. Chain pulling was going to be one of the programmes of the rail roko.
In a statement, Mevani said, “Looking into the situation at the borders, and following talks with Gujarat home minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja, who showed his readiness to hold talks regarding our demands, we are canceling the rail roko agitation. We hope that the government will positively look into our just and reasonable demands.”
Earlier, in an effort to make the rail roko national, Mevani had announced that those who would participate would include Jawaharlal Nehru University students' leader Kanhaiya Kumar, Gandhian academic and Magsaysay awardee Sandip Pandey, film maker Anand Patwardhan, right to information activist and Magsaysay awardee Nikhil Dey, and Dalit rights scholar Dr Anand Teltumbde.
Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), under whose banner the rail roko was to be organized, in a separate statement claimed that the state government had become “soft” to its demands and agreed to hold discussions on them following “long talks” with the government, the rail roko was being taken back.” RDAM added, the decision to withdraw the agitation had been taken “against the backdrop of high alert in the country”.
Interestingly, Pratik Sinha, the closest associate of Mevani, without once recalling “high alert”, said, following “conversation” with the government, RDAM was calling off rail roko “for now” following the state government “initiated contact with the conveners of RDAM this evening”.
He added, “The state government had multiple phone conversations with the conveners of RDAM and the government promised to look at the demands that RDAM has submitted in form of a memorandum and have table-top talks with them to negotiate the demands that RDAM has raised.”
Claiming that RDAM's “steadfastness” in its conviction “instilled a sense of fear in the government”, Sinha added, “The government was finally forced to initiate a dialogue on the eve of rail roko, more than a month after RDAM had submitted their demands.”
Earlier, in an interview with top national daily on Friday, Mevani had said, the government had left him with “no option”, and “unlike multiple calls for talks given to Patidars agitating for OBC status, Dalits’ demands and unrest have been totally ignored.”
“After three mega conventions (of Dalits), a 10-day march and numerous detentions, the government has not even once shown any sign of dialogue”, he had added.
To a question whether the demand for five acres land was unrealistic, Mevani said, “If not 5 acre, give us 3 or 2 acre. But there has to be some willingness for negotiations on their part (government).”
“If government land is not available, then the government should purchase it”, he said, adding, “Patidars were given financial package. The government announced 10% EBC quota. But our demands have been totally ignored.”
Mevani admitted, his call for Dalits to stop skinning cattle – a demand on which two major rallies and an Ahmedabad to Una march were organized – has been “only a partial success”. He agreed, “Many did not agree to the call and others resumed the work after a few days.”
Mevani announced his decision to make rail roko a national event on September 6, at a rally at Jantar Mantar, where, among others, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Dr BR Ambedkar's grandson Prakash Ambedkar, currently Republican Party of India leader, were present.