His meeting with Rahul Gandhi set off speculation that he would join the Congress ahead of Gujarat elections next month. But Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani remains firm — he won’t make his social movement a political one. Speaking to CNN-News18, the young leader explains why he is angry with PM Narendra Modi and reveals why he is, at least for now, staying away from the election fray.
Why are you upset with Narendra Modi?
There is nothing personal about it. But do you know that for two-and-a-half years, I was dragged by my hair in front of my mother because I demanded a BPL card for her?
If a party refuses to talk to any Dalit organisation or NGO about their constitutional right, what do you say? When a ruling party develops such a level of arrogance, how is it possible for me to not be angry?
I am Dalit and I am young. One of the election promises that got Narendra Modi such a huge mandate was that of generating 2 crore jobs every year. Where are these jobs? He has deceived the people of Gujarat and of India. The dictatorship we have had to deal with, the arrogance we have tolerated needs to be challenged. Dalits in Gujarat have made up their minds. It is time to dethrone the BJP. They don't have 5 acres of land to give to the victims of Una lynching but will give thousands of acres to corporates.
What are we asking for? Just social justice. Out of 18,000 villages in Gujarat, 12,000 have Dalits. Why doesn't the government take up the challenge to make even a single one of them free of untouchability? It will not happen overnight, I know that. But the government can at least show intent.
Modi was a very popular Chief Minister. Why this talk now that Dalits have got nothing in Gujarat?
The development balloon was floated to us in 2002, then in 2007 and again in 2012. But there comes a point when you realise that nothing has actually happened. Our life hasn't changed. And that realisation has come to Dalits, OBCs and Patels. The BJP dismisses us by calling us political agents of the Congress. Fine then. Jignesh is wrong, Alpesh (Thakor) is wrong, Hardik (Patel) is wrong. But what about the thousands who have hit the road against the BJP? Are they all wrong? If we have to live, the principal enemy will have to be killed. ASHA workers and anganwadi workers are not getting minimum wages in a state that claims it got FDI worth Rs 60,000 crore. If Gujarat is vibrant, golden, No.1, then pay your govt servants Rs 45,000 instead of Rs 4,000.
The movements by Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and you inherently contradictory and fragmented. How do you hope to work together?
The principal enemy is the BJP. Yes, there are contradictions between the OBCs, the Dalits and the Patels. They may emerge in the future. But first, we have to deal with the BJP. We are all victims of the ‘Gujarat model’, ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas’. Whose Vikas? They do not even want to talk to us. The BJP is great at shaking trees, letting some leaves fall and then calling Hema Malini, Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan for a photo-op with a broom.
Around 1 lakh sanitation workers in Gujarat do not get minimum wages. The BJP loves to talk about desh bhakti (patriotism) and distribute certificates for nationalism. Kishor Valmi, a Gujarati soldier, died at the border. CM Vijay Rupani promised his family Rs 4 lakh. Not a single paisa has been delivered to them yet. They can give Rs 30,000 crore subsidy to corporates, but not to a soldier. And then they call themselves deshbhakts (patriots).
Why are you so critical of CM Vijay Rupani?
Have you heard the logic the CM gives us? “Ramji ka baan (Lord Ram’s bow) is more potent than ISRO missiles.” He compares the legacy of the Wright Brothers to the Pushpak viman. Is this how India will become digital? No. This is how India will become feudal. Instead of going towards the 22nd Century, we will go back to the 17th.
Why are you not fighting the elections?
Why should we reduce a social movement to electoral politics? Having said that, I am not allergic to fighting an election. Aaj sadak mein hai, kal sansad mein hoge (We are on streets today. We may be in Parliament tomorrow). But I am not desperate for it.
Do you think India has become more intolerant than it was?
No one has the right to kill anyone in the name of gau mata or ‘love jihad’ or ghar wapsi. If the BJP says ‘love jihad’, we will say pyaar ishq mohabbat zindabaad. We will celebrate Ambedkar’s anniversary and Valentine’s Day.