Gujarat polls: Jignesh Mevani to contest as Independent from Vadgam. Why he could win
The Gujarat Assembly elections got more interesting Monday when Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani tossed his hat into the ring as an an Independent candidate from Vadgam. Soon after a strong anti-BJP pitch from Mevani on his Facebook page, the Congress pulled back its own candidate in the activist's favour for the seat reserved for the Scheduled Castes in North Gujarat's Banaskantha district.
"In the past few months, countless activists and youth requested me to contest these elections with full strength to counter the fascist BJP on the street as well as in the electoral arena and become the voice of the oppressed in the Vidhan Sabha. BJP is our primary enemy. We request every political outfit and independent candidate other than BJP to not put up a candidate against us so that there can be a direct fight with the BJP," Mevani wrote in a Facebook post.
"In the past 22 years, there has been a dictatorship in Gujarat. We have resisted it from the Una incident till now and the entire country is aware of it," he added. In an earlier post he also sought to crowdfund his campaign that he would "fight for the public, with public funds" embarking upon an interesting experiment in elections.
The Congress, significantly, asked sitting legislator Manilal Vaghela to refrain from contesting this time. "Backing a sitting MLA would have been easy. But supporting Jignesh is important in the larger picture. Congress must be seen as standing for a narrative of change and empowerment of the youth. Moreover, Jignesh is popular among young Dalits across Gujarat," a Gujarat Congress leader told Catch, explaining the rationale behind favouring Mevani over a sitting MLA.
This is part of the Congress efforts to gain out of the popular movements against the BJP across Gujarat, be it by Patidars, OBCs, Dalits, traders and ASHA workers.
This is a relatively safe seat for Mevani. Despite the BJP being in power since 1995, Congress has won the seat thrice - in 1998, 2002 and 2012. In the
last election, Manilal Vaghela defeated former Cabinet Minister Fakirbhai Vaghela by a significant margin of 22,000 votes.
Fakirbhai died in 2013 and Mevani will be up against a relative newcomer from the BJP, Vijay Chakravarti.
Even in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the gap between the vote shares of the BJP and the Congress was a huge 27%, in the Vadgam Assembly segment the difference was a mere 1.8%. This indicates that the Congress held its ground even when it hit rock bottom in Gujarat.
However, as Dalits form only 8-9% of the population in the constituency, Mevani will have to rely on the Congress support among Thakors and Muslims. While Thakors are said to be above 20% in the seat, Muslims form around 12% of the population in Vadgam.
Mevani will also be helped by the fact that Thakor leader Alpesh Thakor will contesting from Radhanpur in Patan district, not far from Vadgam. In fact, Vadgam and Patan are both part of the Patan Lok Sabha constituency.
This area of Gujarat is still backward and water scarcity is a key issues.
It remains to be seen whether Mevani will rely on his own supporters or the Congress machinery during the campaign.