AHMEDABAD: “In the name of Balasahab Ambedkar we take the oath that we will not at any cost give a single vote to this anti-Dalit, anti-OBC, anti-Patidar, anti-Adivasi, anti-Muslim, anti-Kisan, anti-Mazdoor, anti-Yuva Bharatiya Janata Party and its BJP government. In the 2017 elections, in the 2019 elections we will put our entire strength to bring them down”.

Charismatic Jignesh Mevani has the villagers taking the pledge unquestioningly as he moves from village to village, holding countless meetings until late evening. Mevani is clear that he will campaign across his area of influence ensuring that the marginalised voters of Gujarat do not vote for the BJP. He is clear that he will not be asking for votes for the Congress, leaving it for the people to decide who to press the EVM button for so long as it is not the BJP.

Asked if he was facing any trouble from the Congress, Mevani laughed and told The Citizen, “perhaps we are giving them trouble instead.” He is, in that he has steadfastly rejected overtures from the Congress to enter into an alliance with them for the seats. And to work for them. Mevani and his supporters have not agreed, more so as there is a trust deficit and the young Dalit leader does not want to close 2019 options by taking a categorical stand in favour of the Congress in these Assembly polls.

Mevani, however, is undecided about fielding candidates in these polls. The Congress has offered its ticket for his nominees, maintaining that this would be the only way to ensure the votes are not divided. As a senior Congress leader told The Citizen on condition of anonymity, “we have told Jignesh, field your candidates on our symbol, and we will support and work for them.”

Asked how many seats the Congress would be willinging to give Mevani, he said, “we have also told them be careful of who you field. Your candidates must be known to you, as we cannot have a situation where midway during the election or any time for that matter the candidate joins the BJP. You know the kind of lure Amit Shah has…(laughs).”

Mevani, who was thrown into the national spotlights after the Una incident where the stripping and beating of Dalit youths by cow vigilantes, unleashed a wave of anger through Gujarat. He emerged as a decisive leader, and since then has been working continuously to mobilise the Dalit and other marginalised vote against the BJP.

Mevani is a sober, thinking young man who has a host of young people around him, and believes in working together with all forces opposed to the BJP. He is full of praise for Patidar Hardik Patel saying he is not communal, and has grown into his role as the community leader after the heat of the first Patidar protests in Gujarat. JNU’s Kanhaiya Kumar is working closely with Mevani as well, as are the emerging leaders from other states and communities. His platform remains open to all, and as the pledge shows, the effort remains to include and not exclude all communities opposed to the current dispensations “discriminatory” policies.

Mevani’s credibility in Gujarat and outside is growing, and as the Congress leaders admit, his support will be an asset. Will you ask the villagers to vote for the Congress? Mevani responds to this question with an emphatic “No”! So while any kind of merger, or open alliance is ruled out, it remains to be seen whether he fields candidates at all, and if he does whether they will contest as Independents in which case the anti-BJP votes will be cut, or whether they will fight on the Congress symbol which could in the longer run prove difficult for the young leader, particularly as he is looking at the 2019 parliamentary elections with a determined and serious eye.