Exclusive | AAP Hype On Social Media, Not in Gujarat's Villages: Jignesh Mevani

In a conversation with The Quint, Mevani speaks about Congress' chances in Gujarat, Hardik Patel and AAP.

Hindi Female

"In today's India, Bhagat Singh would have been fighting. Being a man of ideology, he would have nurtured thousands of individuals and convinced masses to take to the streets and hit ground zero to fight for their constitutional and fundamental rights," said Jignesh Mevani, a Dalit rights activist and current Congress-backed MLA from Gujarat's Vadagam constituency.

The trio of Mevani, Alpesh Thakor, and Hardik Patel was a force to reckon with ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections. The Patidar movement heralded by Hardik Patel and the OBC movement led by Alpesh Thakor, had managed to make a severe dent in the Bharatiya Janata Party's tally and vote share, and had hugely benefitted the Congress.

Come 2022, Patel and Thakor have both joined the BJP after a having significant stints with the Congress. Mevani, however, went from being an independent MLA to becoming the working president of the Gujarat Congress. Despite predictions of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) eating into the Congress' space in Gujarat and emerging as the principal Opposition, Mevani is not worried.

In a conversation with The Quint, Mevani speaks about the Congress' chances in the upcoming elections in the state, Hardik Patel's move to the BJP and their relationship, and his own journey from activism to mainstream politics.


From activism to Independent MLA, and now a Congress leader. How has it changed the way you could do things?

It is difficult, for sure. When you work as an activist for 7-8 years, you take a particular kind of approach to things with a particular mindset. When you enter the world of mainstream politics, lots of things change, you have to modify a lot of things about yourself, you have to become pragmatic. Radical in ideas and pragmatic in position is the approach I am taking to things. I wanted to widen the scope of my activism by becoming an Independent MLA. Mainstream politics is an extension of my activism for me. But I must say, it is a difficult job. I am still learning the tricks of the trade.


In 2017, you were one of the few MLAs who won as an Independent candidate. What triggered the need to associate with the Congress?

I wanted a bigger canvas. Moreover, the kind of interactions I had with Rahul Gandhi, before Kanhaiya (Kumar) and I joined the party, we thought that we are in sync with their ideology. I find Rahul ji ideologically sound and somebody who has clarity on issues like social justice, secularism, among other things. I found him truly liberal and democratic. I found Rahul the most suitable (to be associated with). Congress is a democratic party. Congress is so democratic that even a G-23 can exist within the party. I found a liberal base within the Congress and I wanted to expand my own base within Gujarat.


How is your relationship with Rahul Gandhi?

Rahul Gandhi works towards synchronising the functioning of the young and the old leaders. He is open to ideas, open to criticism, and is approachable. I have understood one thing from my interactions with him - he does not lie. There is something genuine about him. He wants to do something for the people, for the democracy, and for the country.


How do you see the Bharat Jodo Yatra?

It is a phenomenal concept. A politician walking 1,500 kms is a big thing. The way he meets people, interacts with them, holds hands with them - an old person, a female, a child, a youth - we need a culture like that. This is the land of Gautam Buddha , Sant Ravidas, Sant Namdev, Sant Tukaram, Sufi saints, and saints of the Bhakti movement, this country belongs to people like them. But the amount of violence and hate we see today is unprecedented. Killings of Dalits, targeting of Muslims, the kind of language that the RSS-BJP people use - this is not our culture. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is trying to heal wounds like these. The movement is bringing people together and reminding people to be Indians above the ideas of Hindu-Muslim and Dalit-non-Dalits.


Bharat Jodo Yatra is a political movement. Why is the argument given that it is not an electoral movement?

Whenever any political party starts a movement, it has electoral gains. There are some people who have no ambitions to become MPs or MLAs. But they keep a movement going on for 10-15 years. If I, as a politician, am to start a movement, I will get electoral benefits out of it. Babasaheb Ambedkar was known for his intelligence and his scholarship, but also for the Mahad Satyagraha. Mahatma Gandhi was a Mahatma, but he was also known for the Dandi March. This is the Mahad moment for Rahul Gandhi.


Don't you think it should have passed through Gujarat by now?

If it had started in Gujarat, the media would have coloured it as a movement started for electoral benefits. The movement was never started with the aim of garnering votes.


During 2017, it was said, "Jignesh, Alpesh ane Hardik Pradhanmantri Modi ne bhari padi gaya" (The trio of Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor, and Hardik Patel have cost PM Modi). What happened by the time 2022 came?

I am where I was. The colleagues who wanted to go the BJP have gone. They have gone willingly. I have a clear ideological position. I can quit public life, but I can never compromise with BJP-RSS in this lifetime. So, I am steadfast.


Do you talk to Hardik Patel?

Yes, I do. We are friends, the friendship continues.

Have you spoken to Hardik since he has quit Congress?

Yes, I have spoken once or twice. We have inquired about each other's well being, etc.

Keeping the politics aside, what has been your professional outlook towards his move to the BJP?

I have said openly in the media before and I still stand by it - there were cases slapped on him. As per my sources, if he was to be convicted in a case of sedition, he would be behind bars for the 15-20 years. That's my impression. But, the kind of language that he used against the Congress party after quitting it despite being the working president, and specifically against Rahul Gandhi, that was not done. It was not healthy.


It used to be said that there is massive force behind the Opposition ahead of the 2017 elections.

It's true, that that force is not there anymore, because the three of us are not together anymore.

So, what factor do you think the Congress has this time to counter the BJP like in 2017?

First factor - for the first time in 27 years, especially in the past entire year, I have observed that even the BJP cadres are not very excited or energetic. The second factor is the issue of unemployment and inflation. The third factor is that since our trio (Jignesh-Alpesh-Hardik) is not united anymore. Since there is no people's movement, the Congress has done conscious and meticulous planning for the elections. The party is not holding big rallies, it is not visible in the media lens, but we are holding nukkad sabhas, reaching out to masses at rural levels - even PM Modi has acknowledged that. We have active booth committees, community influencers, and ground level workers working in a more organised manner this time. That is what we lacked in 2017.


Speaking of narrative, it is being said that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is eating up into the Congress' space. How much do you agree to that?

The AAP does not have any organisational base in the state. They say AAP is eating up into the Congress' votes. Even if one considers this to be true, it will mean that there will be nobody left on the side of the Constitution and democracy to stand against fascism. It will be very unfortunate. Secondly, a new party coming here for a span of 2-4 months and infiltrating and building a network in every tehsil, district, and some 18,000 villages of the state - it is impossible. It takes years of hard work. Infiltrating spaces on social media is one thing, but infiltrating spaces on ground zero is different.

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