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Why the rise of Jignesh Mevani worries Gujarat Congress leaders

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on January 09, 2018

Partymen fear Dalit leader’s proximity to Rahul won’t fetch votes in 2019

He is not a Congress member, though he contested in the Gujarat Assembly election last month with the support of the party’s President Rahul Gandhi. But freshly minted Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, 37, has managed to nearly bulldoze the existing Congress leadership in Gujarat.

Meanwhile, the Congress ‘old guard’ — the relatively young Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel and Shaktisinh Gohil — ironically lost the elections even as their party improved its tally in the State significantly. Today, much to Gujarat Congress leaders’ dismay, Mevani appears to have closer ties to Rahul than any of them.

Mevani, a lawyer by profession, hit the headlines after the Una incident in Gir-Somnath district in 2016, when some Dalit youths were assaulted by cow vigilantes.

There were State-wide protests, and Mevani led a march from Ahmedabad to Una.

Together with Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel and OBC leader Alpesh Thakore, who both supported the Congress against the ruling BJP in the recent polls, he was initially seen as part of the ‘Young Turk Trio’.

But Mevani subsequently stole the thunder from Hardik and Alpesh as well, though Alpesh is now a Congress MLA. Bharatsinh Solanki, who did not contest the Assembly polls and has been retained as Gujarat Congress president, is said to be annoyed with the emergence of a rank outsider (Mevani) in party affairs.

Mevani has won support from Union Minister Ramdas Athavale, a veteran Dalit leader from Maharashtra, indicating a possible realignment of forces in the near future.

Sources in the Congress say this sudden emergence of Mevani has made the situation piquant not only for the party leaders in Gujarat but also for Hardik and Alpesh. To demonstrate his clout with Rahul, Mevani frequently shows off his social media exchanges with the Congress President, they say.

Maharashtra rally

State Congress leaders did not want Rahul to openly support the recent Dalit agitation in Maharashtra, where Mevani also played a part, as it would antagonise other sections of voters. But Rahul went right ahead, apparently egged on by Mevani.

Considering ‘Dalit votes’ account for just 8 per cent of the total in Gujarat, Rahul giving much importance to Mevani surprises Congress leaders in the State. They are also anxious that this may consolidate non-Dalit votes in favour of the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The naming of Patidar leader Paresh Dhanani as the next leader of the Congress Legislative Party, to be elevated as Leader of Opposition in the new Assembly, is being seen as a step too little, too late.

Published on January 09, 2018
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