Jignesh Mevani, the young dalit leader from Gujarat, is not contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. But he has already toured 24 states and delivered “provocative” speeches to help “wipe out the RSS and the BJP”. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he talks about key issues in the elections. Excerpts:
What is your role in the Lok Sabha elections?
My role has to be viewed on the basis of what I have done post 2014. The agitation after Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder, the Una agitation, my electoral victory in Vadgam, the rise of the Bhim army, the Bhima Koregaon protests and the historic Bharat bandh last year, all happened between 2014 and 2018.
It clearly suggests that the dalits are offended like never before. Till date, I have been to 24 states with the single agenda of asking the dalits and the general masses to wipe out the RSS and the BJP. With every passing day, my followers are increasing and I am being invited to places across the country.
As far as my role is concerned, I am satisfied. For the Rajasthan state elections, I began the campaign against the BJP and the RSS much before the Congress did. I got 26,000 dalits in Rajasthan to take a pledge in the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar that they will never vote for the BJP. I have three FIRs against me in Karnataka over the so-called “provocative speeches” against Narendra Modi.
In Gujarat, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and I exposed the BJP’s development model. The Congress, as principal opposition, should have taken it forward from there. But, it has not done that.
What are your campaign plans?
I have travelled all over the country campaigning against the BJP. Now I will be focusing on three to four constituencies. I will be campaigning for Prakash Raj, Hardik Patel (if he contests), Kanhaiya Kumar and a few others. I am trying to tie up with civil rights groups across the country.
What are the challenges as far as opposition unity is concerned?
Cobbling together a grand alliance and bringing down Modi is one thing. But, coming up with a positive, progressive agenda is altogether different.
Modi did not give two crore jobs. But, can the members of the grand alliance provide within 100 days the 24 lakh jobs that are already sanctioned, if they come to power?
The NREGA should be extended to 200 days instead of 100, and the money should come from wealth tax on 1 per cent of the population that has the country’s 73 per cent wealth.
The Statue of Unity was made at the cost of Rs3,000 crore. In Gujarat, at a cost of Rs1,000 crore, each community and public health centre can have MRI/CT scan machines through a scheme named after Sardar Patel. Such a positive and proactive agenda is missing. The opposition should give ten such workable promises that can catch the imagination of the people.
Untouchability still prevails. Can anybody in the grand alliance promise that they will launch a progressive campaign to wipe out untouchability? Nobody bothers about it.
Do you think the Balakot air strikes will help the BJP?
Yes. People in this country are not rational. They are emotional and sentimental. Imagine a situation in which money earmarked for dalit welfare is not being used for their benefit. Most of the dalits would not bother about it. However, if some news channel flashes a news that a finger of one of the statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar is damaged, then there will be a mass uprising. This is true with all castes and that is the Indian psyche.
The BJP is trying to encash the sentiment generated after the Pulwama attack. Modi is likely to float over the excitement. Otherwise what has he got to offer the people?
Now Modi will be able to abuse Pakistan. He will be able to create Hindu-Muslim [tension], by creating India-Pakistan [tension].
Recently, an event at your alma mater to which you were invited as chief guest, had to be cancelled because of protests. And the principal resigned in protest. Your comments.
It shows the dryness of Gujarat. There is no progressive students’ movement in the state. I have delivered speeches in 24 states. But, there is not a single college or university in Gujarat where I have been invited to deliver a talk. This is what Hardik Patel and Kanhaiya Kumar are also facing.
The civil society groups cannot even think of felicitating Hemantkumar Shah (the principal who resigned). Historian Ramachandra Guha’s programme was also cancelled. Such is the dryness and spinelessness of Gujarat’s civil society.
What will decide the fate of the Lok Sabha elections?
The sentiment generated after the Pulwama attack. This is the only thing that will secure Modi’s victory, if at all he is winning. And then he will justify GST and demonetisation. This can be countered, but the political parties are not doing it.
What are your plans for Uttar Pradesh where dalits account for more than 10 per cent of the voters?
I will not be going much to Uttar Pradesh. The SP-BSP alliance will take care of things there. I have been invited by local groups.
Do you plan to set up a dalit front?
The dalit votes are taken care of. They are not going to vote for the BJP. I am more bothered about the general voters. Among the dalits, many are smart enough to understand the gimmicks of the RSS and the BJP, including Modi washing the feet of the dalits.
Why are you not contesting the Lok Sabha elections?
I do aspire to become an MP. I will contest in future. At the moment I want to concentrate on Gujarat. My politics will not certainly revolve around electoral politics. I am a people’s man.