Can’t be bought over: Jignesh Mevani’s message in his poll pitch

The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 23-11-2022 | 11:35 am

Can’t be bought over: Jignesh Mevani’s message in his poll pitch

A group playing the tambourine sings “Gaon gaon se uthho, basti basti se uthho, aadmi aurat bhi uttho, bachche budhe bhi utho, desh ki surat badalne ke liye uthho; jiske haath mein kuchch bhi nahin, aawaz leke uthho (Rise from the villages, rise from the slums, men and women rise, children and elders too rise, to change the face of the country, rise; those who have nothing, raise your voice and rise).”It is minutes to go for the arrival of Jignesh Mevani, and the singers are building up the tempo, mixing the song with accounts of the Dalit MLA’s struggles against the BJP and its top leaders Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.Mevani, the sitting MLA from Vadgam in Banaskantha district, who won last time as an Independent and is now contesting on a Congress ticket, takes up the theme as he arrives at Memadpur village. Legislators were bought over for “Rs 5, 15, 25 crore”, he says. “But I can say proudly that I did not break the trust people of Vadgam put in me.”Mevani may only be a one-time MLA, but as one of the most popular Dalit faces of Gujarat, who rose to prominence in the wake of the Una Dalit assault of 2016, he is among the star campaigners on the Opposition side. Appointed the Congress’s working president ahead of the Assembly polls, he is young (42), articulate, passionate in his attacks on the BJP, and the only one of the 2017 campaign’s young turks in the party’s ranks – the other two, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor, are now both in the BJP.On Tuesday, Thakor, an OBC leader who in 2017 fought as a Congress candidate, campaigned in Vadgam for the BJP. Asked about this, Mevani simply grins.In his interactions, mostly in small groups, Mevani focuses on issues like rising prices, unaffordable health facilities, paper leaks delaying government recruitments, farmers’ debt and the BJP’s intolerance for contrary views. With the Congress the sole party to raise the release of the Bilkis Bano case convicts as a poll issue, Mevani brings that up. Lastly, he talks about his agitation to get the Narmada water to the local Mukteshwar dam and Karmavat lake, and again, promises to “remain loyal”.Facing health issues, he apologises for addressing the people mostly sitting down. The welcome is generally enthusiastic, from people across communities.While Vadgam is considered a Congress bastion, the contest is four-pronged this time, including besides the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party and AIMIM. Muslims form the biggest bulk of the population, followed by members of the Chaudhary community.In Memadpur, a village with a mixed population, Mevani warns that under the BJP government, gas cylinder prices would double from the current Rs 1,100 in 6-12 months. “If you want the cylinder at Rs 500 — as Rahul Gandhi has promised — vote for the Congress.” The cylinder talk resonates with the women in the audience, who talk about how one fill does not last them even a month.In Pilucha village, he mentions Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, and that “he is walking 25 km daily for the unity of the country”. “He is a person who never lies, even if is at the risk of losing 25 seats,” Mevani says.In Pepol village, Mevani goes beyond the bread and butter issues. “On the fifth (December 5, when Vadgam will vote in the second phase), if a single vote from your village is cast in favour of the BJP, you should know that you supported those rapists (in the Bilkis Bano case), that you also did not have any objection to leak of papers for 14-15 (government recruitment) examinations,” he says.The Congress leader tells people that for him Bilkis is the daughter of Gujarat, “not Hindu or Muslim”. “She was pregnant and was gangraped. Her three-year-old child was smashed into a wall and killed… I don’t know what occurred to (Narendra) Modi that all the convicts were released. They were felicitated, welcomed… it was said they were released because they were sanskari… Can this be the Gujarat of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Ravishankar Maharaj or Indulal Yagnik? Is this the country of Babasaheb Ambedkar?… And those who released them (the convicts) are asking people to take out Tiranga Yatra!” Mevani says.As an example of the BJP’s intolerance for opposition, Mevani refers to his own imprisonment over a tweet, after which he was frisked away overnight to Assam. He also talks about the imprisonment of former chairman of Dudhsagar Dairy Vipul Chaudhary, who commands support among his Chaudhary community.At Megaal village, Mevani calls both examples of the BJP’s “dadagiri”.Asking people to repeat after him the slogan ‘Be hazar baavish, Congress laavish (2022, I will bring the Congress to power)’, Mevani adds: “If you want the debt of industrialists to be pardoned, vote for the BJP. But if you want the debt of farmers to be pardoned, vote for the Congress. If you want costly private hospitals, vote for the BJP. But if you want a hospital like the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, vote for the Congress.”In Nagarpura village, Mevani tells people that they could trust his word. “I am the same person I was (in 2017). There is no increase in my assets. Your MLA has not been bought over, and will never be… I am not going to give you money or liquor (to win the election). But you can always call me if you want to get water in the Karmavat lake.”Following a long agitation to get the Narmada water to the region where agriculture and animal husbandry are the main occupation, the Gujarat government recently allocated Rs 200 crore for the project.The BJP candidate from the seat is former Congress MLA Manilal Vaghela, while AAP has nominated another local prominent Dalit rights activist. The AIMIM, which is banking on its hold on the minority vote, has fielded Kalpesh Sundhiya.While the Muslim vote is likely to split, the Congress is hoping that Vipul Chaudhary’s arrest will create a friction between the BJP and its loyal vote bank in the community.Jayesh Chaudhary of Memadpur village says they like Mevani. “So far, people have always come to us to seek our votes to fill their own pockets. Jigneshbhai comes to us for our issues. He will win for sure.”But Yagnik Makwana, a Dalit youth from Pilucha village, predicts a “kante ki takkar (close fight)”. “A swing of even 5,000 votes can prove decisive. No one can afford to be complacent.”

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