The new face of the Dalit movement in Gujarat. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jignesh Mevani)
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Who is Jignesh Mevani and Can He Impact the UP Election Result?

“I’m very romantic, poetic, flamboyant,” that’s how 35-year-old Jignesh Mevani describes himself. The self-confessed guppe-baaz is the face of the new Dalit movement that’s swept Gujarat. He’s successfully channeled the outrage following the public flogging of Dalit tannery workers by gau rakashaks, into an organised movement for liberation from the caste system.

On 15 August, he called out – “You can keep the cow’s tail, but give us our land” and administered a vow to 20,000 supporters “never to enter sewers and not to skin dead cattle.”

Speaking to The Quint, Jignesh asks “has Modi not heard of what has happened in Una?”

The question is at the crux of his next campaign – sending post cards to the Prime Minister.

The statement Modi made – goli maarni hai toh mujhe maaro, daliton ko mat maro – Fact is, more than 14,000 cases of Dalit atrocities were recorded during his regime, but he never uttered a word. Even now, he’s said nothing about what happened in Una. He keeps tweeting about other nonsensical things, but has he not heard what’s happening in Una?
Jignesh Mevani, Convenor, Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti
Jignesh Mevani administers a vow to the Dalits of Dholka block of Ahmadabad district to quit  disposing  dead cattle and  demand land from the government. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jignesh Mevani)
Jignesh Mevani administers a vow to the Dalits of Dholka block of Ahmadabad district to quit disposing dead cattle and demand land from the government. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jignesh Mevani)
Jignesh Mevani addressing supporters in Una on 15 August  2016 (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jignesh Mevani)
Jignesh Mevani addressing supporters in Una on 15 August 2016 (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Jignesh Mevani)

Political Expansion for a Social Impact

While Jignesh is certain he will not allow any political party near his movement, he’s clear that his social movement has a political perspective.

Because our demands are political. We want to dismantle this feudal, casteist structure through reforms. But politics doesn’t always mean electoral politics. We are engaging in politics of resistance, politics of protest, politics of demonstration to make the government bend.
Jignesh Mevani

But Dalits form only eight percent of the electorate in Gujarat and any number of protests is unlikely to affect political change and reforms. To sustain the movement and create a “united, democratic, liberal platform to expose the Gujarat model, talk about sanitation workers and landless labourers” Jignesh Mevani is working to open a new front in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Kerala and Maharashtra.

On 6 December, the Una Dalit Atyachar Ladat Samiti has decided to burn copies of the Manusmriti, the ancient text that codifies the caste system, outside the Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan high court premises which has an idol of Manu.

Public flogging of seven Dalit tannery workers prompted the former AAP member to organize the Dalit movement in Gujarat. (Photo: ANI screengrab/Altered by The Quint)
Public flogging of seven Dalit tannery workers prompted the former AAP member to organize the Dalit movement in Gujarat. (Photo: ANI screengrab/Altered by The Quint)

The Uttar Pradesh Effect

However it is Jignesh Mevani’s call to Dalits and Muslims to unite in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh that’s garnered significant interest.

18 percent of the voters in UP are Muslims. Dalits constitute 21 percent of the vote base. Securing anything over 30 percent of the votes guarantees absolute majority in a fragmented three-way, four if we count the Congress, contest.

In 2011, the Samajwadi Party came to power with a little over the 30 percent of the total vote share. During the 2014 general election, the BJP won 71 of the 80 Lok Sabha with 42 percent of the vote share.

Rohith Vemula’s suicide, Jisha’s rape and murder, the Una incident and the rampant rise of the self-styled cow vigilantes are already expected to have rankled the Dalit consciousness. Despite his resistance to electoral politics, if Jignesh Mevani tours Uttar Pradesh he could consolidate the Dalit vote in Mayawati’s favour.

Even as he jet sets across Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Patna, Jignesh is also preparing to release an autobiography on his favorite Gujarati poet Mariz.