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

August 22 to be observed as Apostasy Day: International coalition of ex-Muslim groups

By Our Representative
In a unique move, an international coalition of ex-Muslim organisations has decided to observe August 22, 2020 as the Apostasy Day. To be observed for “the abandonment or renunciation of religion”, the coalition, calling upon people to join the call, said, the decision to observe the Apostasy Day has been taken because of apostasy is “punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, and Yemen.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

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".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

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.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.