Jignesh Mevani, who was elected as an independent backed by the Congress, is among the leaders most discussed after the Gujarat assembly poll verdict. The journalist-turned-lawyer came into limelight when he launched a strong campaign following the controversial Una village incident.
A group of dalit youths who were involved in their traditional job of skinning a dead animal in Una were brutally assaulted by a mob on suspicion of a cow slaughter incident in July 2016. The youths were tied and flogged repeatedly. A video of this gruesome incident went viral, evoking strong condemnation all over the country. Jignesh Mevani then led a protest march, Dalit Asmita Yatra, from Ahmedabad to Una, which culminated on 15 August last year.
The protest march attracted the entire nation’s attention with many activists from various states participating in it. To protest against the inhuman treatment meted out to the dalits, Mevani asked the dalits to give up their traditional jobs of taking away the carcass from the villages or skinning the dead cattle.
Mevani’s movement caught the attention of people all over the country, earning him recognition as a dalit leader.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Mevani played a vital role in helping the Congress and Rahul Gandhi to give a tough fight to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Gujarat polls. While Thakor won the assembly seat on the Congress ticket, 35-year-old Mevani won the Vadgam assembly seat as an independent, supported by the Congress.
After his election to the Gujarat Assembly, Mevani is expected to be an asset to the Opposition benches. This will be also be for the first time since many years that the presence of the opposition will be felt in the Gujarat assembly as the ruling party now has just a simple majority.
The most significant fact is that the dalit movements in the country have found in Jignesh Mevani a new independent leader who can take up their many issues. Following his Una protest march, Mevani was invited to address rallies in many cities in the country. Mevani is a good orator and has proved his abilities to lead people. He has taken up many issues faced by the dalits.
The dalit movements in the country have been carrying out their struggles in isolation, without much tangible results. Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati who a few years back raised hopes of the dalit community in the country has not been active outside her home state, Uttar Pradesh. The dalit leaders in Maharashtra including Ramdas Athavale and Prakash Ambedkar too have not evinced any interest in expanding their political horizon beyond their home state. Therefore the rise of Jignesh Mevani as a new face of dalit and progressive movement will be refreshing and assuring moment. Mevani’s actions in the past have indicated that he will not be interested in confining himself to the issues of dalits and others in Gujarat alone. It is time for the young generation leaders to lead the social and political movements in the country.