To bring about long-term change for Dalits, he must parlay his victory into a long innings in politics. Remaining permanently in agitation mode will be his undoing
GN Bureau | December 19, 2017
Jignesh Mevani is the sole leader from the Gujarat youthquake (more accurately, a castequake led by youth leaders) who has won an election on his own steam. He stood as an independent candidate, and campaigned on his own. The Congress graciously allowed him to contest from Vadnagar, asking its winning candidate from that constituency in the last elections to contest elsewhere. Hardik Patel did not contest and Alpesh Thakor joined the Congress, coming as he does from a family that is linked to the party. What makes Mevani unique is that, although he deployed caste indentity, his victory is his own, just as his rise as a leader was. Also, it makes him the most vulnerable to fading away.
Mevani studied at the H.K. Arts & Commerce College, Ahmedabad, known to have produced a steady stream of political and social activists. For several decades now, it has had faculty members who actively expressed themselves on social issues, participated in politics, and even took to the streets in protest when the need arose. In fact, the young leader has readily acknowledged in interviews the influence of his college teachers on shaping him into the leader he is today. He remembers how they helped him look at social issues in a new light and to think for himself.
Mevani was a lawyer-activist who hardly got noticed till he organised protests against anti-Dalit atrocities in Una and elsewhere. Deploying social media and taking the protests to the streets, he effectively raised a voice for Dalits in a state so drunk on development that it ignores the poor and the marginalised.
Now that he has won -- without joining a party, though the Congress supported him tacitly -- it becomes all the more important for him to sustain the energy, born from an acute sense of injustice, with which he raised himself into the public sphere. This will require more than remaining perpetually in agitation mode.
Long lasting change for Dalits everywhere -- that is the goal he should aim for, seeking inspiration from Ambedkar and Martin Luther King. He has often spoken of the absence of a rationalist-progressive outlook in the India, which is the reason why caste persists. Trying to remedy that should be the means by which he sets out to achieve that lasting change.
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