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

Hold your breath! UK ex-Muslims to celebrate Blasphemy Day on September 30

Soheil Arabi The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), in a suprise move, has decided to observe September 30 as the Blasphemy Day. In an email alert, Maryam Namazie, CEMB spokesperson, has asked anyone interested to join CEMB in celebrating blasphemy by " uploading your photo into our #blasphemyday frame and sharing on social media."

What this veteran Gandhian witnessed at Rajghat is indeed intensely disturbing

Renowned Gandhian, activist and physicist Professor VK Tripathi witnessed an “intensely worrisome” event at the Gandhi Samadhi on his birthday on October 2, 2021. “The children of the Hindutva criminals who assassinated him have captured places which are supposed to keep Gandhiji's heritage alive”, says Deepak Joshi in a Faceook post, insisting, “We should strongly protest against it. It is already too late.”

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

International Energy Agency floats new plan to end oil, gas, and coal expansion

In major shift, International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook has mainstreamed 1.5°C pathway, showing need to end oil, gas, and coal expansion, insisting on new fossil fuel phase-out benchmarks in order to test government ambition ahead of COP26. A report by Oil Change International, distributed by BankTrack: *** For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s flagship annual report on global energy pathways, used worldwide to influence trillions of dollars in investment, details an achievable roadmap to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). By making a 1.5°C scenario the benchmark of this year’s World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA challenges governments and companies to back up lagging Paris pledges with immediate action to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels. Notably, this year’s WEO solidifies the policy conclusion, first presented by the IEA in May , that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction projects should be approved under a 1.5°C-

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Known to have assissinated O'Dwyer, Udham Singh chose not to apologise to the British

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer , the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India , on 13 March 1940, done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible, was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment. Writes a well-known analyst, "He too could have apologised. He chose the noose instead!" Udham Singh's speech prior to sentencing in UK: *** “I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought us everything filthy and degenerating. known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and blood

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

Indian Doctors for Truth want Modi to stop overzealous universal vaccination drive

At a time when there is a huge demand to ensure that vaccination should be universal in order to gain immunity against the pandemic, an organisation called Indian Doctors for Truth, have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against Covid-19.  Read the letter, signed by 18 doctors and a health expert: ***

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Ex-official: Why not offer Vaishnaw loss making BSNL, Air India to prove his worth?

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.