Skip to main content

Jignesh Mevani: Cadre building amidst atmosphere of fear; in search of alliances

By Rajiv Shah
A few days back, I met independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, one of those who has been regarded in some circles as an iconic Dalit leader of Gujarat. He had come for a meeting in Gujarat Vidyapeeth, organized to remember a truly iconic Gujarat High Court advocate, late Girish Patel, known to be the founder of public interest litigations (PILs) in India, and one who firmly stood by the underprivileged. After listening to several speeches, including that of Mevani, I came out of the hall along with a journalist colleague, Darshan Desai.
I murmured in Desai’s ear a strange rumour I had heard a few weeks earlier – that Mevani, known for being a long-time opponent of BJP, had “possibly” met Union home minister Amit Shah, or maybe he have asked for an audience. Desai immediately advised me to ask Mevani. I never believed in the rumour, though I thought there was nothing wrong in meeting Amit Shah. After all, he is India’s home minister, and if one has to make a representation or a complaint, one must approach him. Who else?
No sooner I spotted Mevani just outside the hall, and decided to approached him. I have known him for about a decade, when he was just a human rights activist. He had met me first in my Times of India office in Gandhinagar. Mevani greeted me with a deep welcome. Yet, I asked him this most embarrassing question: “Have heard a rumour: You met Amit Shah. Is it true?”
Mevani, perhaps already a thick-skinned politician, wasn’t impressed, yet smiled, “If someone says I met VI Lenin, would you believe it?” There the matter ended. A rumour was a rumour. I don’t know what whether the person who had told about the “possible meeting” had any interest in telling me about it. Also, I continued to argue with myself, what’s wrong if one meets Amit Shah? Politics is one thing, meeting someone is totally another.
The last time I met Mevani was more than one-and-a-half years ago during a press conference before he was announced an independent candidate backed by the Congress in 2017 for assembly polls. I was interested in knowing what all he has been doing all this while. “Cadre building”, was his cryptic reply. Must be for the organization he leads, Dalit Adhikar Manch, I thought. But wasn’t it a drab subject?
So I asked him: “People say, there is economic slowdown. Do you agree? If there is, why is there no unrest against the BJP rule anywhere?” And his reply was, “There is an atmosphere of fear, prevailing across India, that’s what is keeping people from protesting.” He appeared sure, this atmosphere of fear wouldn’t last long, the volcano would burst, and when it does, the cadres whom he is “preparing” right now would give political directions on what should be done next, of course, under his “able” guidance.
“Where is Congress, the party which backed you? Why is it so quiet? Except for isolated statements, it does not appear to be doing anything. It is not visible”, I further probed his mind. And he replied, “It’s again the atmosphere of fear which is keeping the Congress dormant. They have instituted cases against Congress leaders, who know, if they campaign aggressively against BJP rule, the security agencies would pounce on them. Hence they have no option.”
Then I turned to him to find out whether he was involved in any agitation. “Yes, of course”, he said, “I was in Kutch a few days back. We got the occupation to hundreds of acres of land for Dalits. The land belonged to the Dalits, but it was occupied by powerful sections. It was a long drawn out battle, and we have won. We are fighting for more such land, we are sure we will win in Kutch.” Was he preparing for an election from Kutch, I asked him, and he replied in the negative.
Madhavsinh Solanki
I knew: Land struggle for the Dalits has been one of Mevani’s favourite thrusts. A lawyer himself, who can speak in reasonably good English (a requirement in High Court), I recalled, he had even filed a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court on this after coming up with a survey of the land allocated to the Dalits during the land reforms days, but continuing under the occupation of dominant forces. I don’t know what exactly happened, but if I recall correctly, he did get some favourable judgment giving directions to the Gujarat government on this.
“But what about your politics? What political alliances are you working on? Don’t you think you need alliances in order to defeat your chief opponent, BJP?”, I sought a diversion. In between, the two security guards who are part of the security cover he has been provided, came up to him and said, the tea and snacks were ready, so he should join. Mevani told them to go there, and continued talking to me. I was interested in alliances also because Dalits form less than 7% of the population of Gujarat, and banking on Dalits alone, one cannot expect him make a political dent in the state.
Already a seasoned politician, Mevani knows this pretty well – one reason why he decided to agree to a constituency, Vadgam, to fight elections. This was a “sure seat”, so to say. Even during the Lok Sabha polls, when BJP won all 26 seats from Gujarat, Vadgam was among the seven assembly segments out of 182 where it couldn’t get majority. A scheduled caste reserved seat, it has a huge Muslim population, and Mevani’s slogan then, of Dalit-Muslim unity, did work.
Muslims in Gujarat make up about 9% of the population. So, even if Dalits and Muslims form a complete alliance, that would mean just 16% . So, I asked him, what was he doing to come up with a broader political alliance. I had in mind an alliance which former Gujarat chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki had formed in 1980s, called KHAM, an acronym for Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.
Himself belonging to the other backward class (OBC) Thakore community, Solanki in had turned Kshatriyas into a political class, which included upper caste Rajputs, and OBC castes Thakores and Kolis, which form around 40% of the state’s population. Experts tell me, the latter two call themselves Rajputs as they are the descendants of the footsoldiers of India’s rulers, whether local kings or Britishers. The alliance was broken by BJP within a decade after it came up with the Hindutva thrust, seeking to unite all Hindus, ranging from OBCs to Dalits and Adivasis, even as assiduously keeping Muslims out, thus bringing about a communal divide.
Apparently, Mevani understood what I was trying to hint it, and he replied: “We have seen from our own experience that OBCs and Dalits have strong contradictions, and an alliance between the two is not easy. Hence, what I am proposing is an alliance between Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis.” For quite some time he continued explaining this contradiction, and on the need to have such an alliance. Reason was simple: Adivasis form about 15% of Gujarat’s population, and with Dalits and Muslims, they they would together be around 31%. The discussion ended, and we proceeded to have tea.
Frankly, I didn’t understand the logic of the alliance. First of all, while Dalits and Muslims often live side by side in ghettos, Adivasis, though oppressed almost in the same way as Dalits, live huddled in the eastern hilly belt of Gujarat, where there is sparse Dalit population. Secondly, while Muslims and Adivasis do live together in some parts, there have been strong contradictions between the two, especially in South Gujarat.
In districts like Bharuch, Adivasis see Muslim landowners as exploiters, one reason why wealthy Congress strongman Ahmed Patel, political adviser (former?) of Sonia Gandhi, refuses to fight any poll from Bharuch, which has been his karmabhoomi.

Comments

Jagdish Patel said…
In 2002 Muslims were attacked badly in Panchmahal and Dahod where the Adivasi population is in majority. In almost all Adivasi constituencies BJP has won, which was earlier Congress bastion. It is unlikely that Adivasi and Muslims can come together. The Ground reality is much different

TRENDING

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta*  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support. The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.

Flamboyant 'demagogues' adjust politics, personality in shadow of democracy

Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro By Ajit Singh The terms dictators and demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts, but there is a difference. The former rule over a totalitarian states where governments are able to exercise complete influence over every aspect of citizens’ life, whereas the latter are a "wannabe dictators" but due to the system of checks and balances they are are not fully capable to create police states.

Vindictive raids? Centre 'retaliates' after Delhi govt child rights body's clean chit to ex-babu

By Our Representative  Over 700 academics, advocates, activists, civil servants, writers, film makers, journalists, musicians and artists have condemned the raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the offices and private home of top IAS bureaucrat-turned-human rights and peace activist Harsh Mander, stating, the aim is nothing but to “harass and intimidate” him.

Protests break out as school going children 'branded Naxalites, taken prisoners'

By Sheshu Babu* Conditions in all spheres of life is going from bad to worse. On September 13, Political Prisoners' Day was observed. On that day, Jatin Das, friend of Bhagat Singh and member of the Hindustan Republican Socialist Association, passed away after 63 days of hunger strike. He demanded 'political prisoners' status to those who have been jailed by the state.

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

Catholic women warn: Kerala Bishop turning Church into puppet in political games

Counterview Desk A group of Catholic women under the banner Concerned Catholic Women of India has said that they are deeply concerned over "a bishop’s controversial statement" which may threaten communal harmony in India. As many as 89 Catholic women from across India have urged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and its Kerala unit to take special steps to "foster peace and avoid strife."

No space for 2 lakh waste pickers in Delhi masterplan for next two decades: Study

By Our Representative  A new survey report prepared by the NGO Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group on the challenges faced by waste pickers in managing solid waste in Delhi, “Space for Waste - 2021”, has regretted that currently, there is no provision of workspace for waste workers, hence they carry out their work of segregation, repairing, and composting at different locations.