Protests have erupted across Gujarat over the last few days over the arrest of Dalit leader and Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani by Kokrajhar Police in Assam following a tweet. Mevani was granted bail in the case on Monday only to be re-arrested by Barpeta Police in another case.

The protests are going on at two levels, one by the Congress party that Mevani had joined along with Kanhaiya Kumar last year and another at the level of various groups, mainly Dalit led, and civil society organizations.

Sources on the ground say that many of these protests have been impromptu and spontaneous with mostly youth and women participating. The protests are expected to intensify Tuesday onwards.The state had recently witnessed communalised clashes in places like Himmatnagar, Veraval and Khambat.

Mevani was reportedly arrested by Assam police from a government circuit house in Palanpur, Banaskantha, Gujarat on April 20, after a case against him was registered in Kokrajhar in connection with a tweet that mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse and an appeal to Modi to restore peace in places that had witnessed communal violence.

Reports of Mevani’s arrest after securing bail say the Barpeta police re-arrested him on allegation of assaulting a woman police officer. Assam also has a BJP government in place.

In Gujarat meanwhile, the Ahmedabad police subsequently raided the office of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch, the home of Mevani’s personal assistant as well as the MLA hostel premises, confiscating a computer CPU and some mobile phones according to reports.

The Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch was set up by Mevani and associates after the infamous daylight assault on Dalit men in Una in 2016. The Manch had spearheaded protests and a protest march to Una that drew international attention.

Mevani’s associates and supporters told The Citizen that since his arrest there have been protests right up to the tehsil level across Gujarat, with anger at the manner in which he was “picked up” repeatedly. On Monday a large number of protestors submitted a memorandum to the district authorities in Mehsana that had the thumb impressions of his supporters in blood.

Why was Jignesh Mevani targeted this way? In the election context the Schedule Castes hardly account for 7% of Gujarat’s population, and are so spread out that they can hardly pose a concerted challenge to any party’s tally of seats.

“The thing that irked them was his becoming more and more vocal on issues in the poll year. He was speaking out not only for Dalits but for Employees, Tribals and the Minorities at the receiving end of the communal onslaught against them. He was becoming an important voice across Gujarat,” said Subodh Kumud, a close associate of Mevani in the Manch.

Kaushik Parmar, another one of Mevani’s associates from the Manch observed, “If you look at his tweet there is hardly a case to be made out. But the ruling powers probably want to keep him away from Gujarat and his own constituency in the poll year. They just want to suppress his voice that is speaking out for the Dalits and others at the receiving end of government apathy.”

Mevani had spoken out strongly in public after the recent episodes of communalised violence in Gujarat.

“I want to send across a message to all the Muslims in Gujarat that we stand by the ideals of secularism as visualized by the Constitution. This country belongs as much to the Muslims as to the Hindus as it stands on the sacrifices of Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan.

“In this very Gujarat where we are witnessing communal riots there is the history of Basant and Rajab sacrificing their lives for brotherhood in the Jamalpur area of Ahmedabad. I speak in strong words that for you it might be Hindus and Muslims killed in Veraval, Himmatnagar and Khambat but for me it is Indians who have been killed,” he said in a recent public rally.

Mevani and his associates had also organized a successful event on the occasion of Bhimrao Ranji Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on April 14 when they carried out a 14 km march from Shahibaug to Sarangpur in Ahmedabad touching several Dalit neighbourhoods in the city.

They had raised 14 important issues at the event that pertained to Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims, the so called De-Notified Tribes, Women, Employees, and the education rights of communities kept to the margins.

They demanded proper implementation of the government’s street vendor policy along with an end to the practice of fixed pay and contractual modes of employment (without benefits or job security). They also demanded that the minimum wage rates be increased with the spiralling inflation.

“In one go the wages of MLAs and MPs are increased manifold while the minimum wages of the poor are revised barely once in five years. It was also demanded that the government withdraw cases registered against the Dalits on the lines of those withdrawn against the Patidars,” said of the organizers of the march.

“It is an attempt to suppress the new leadership coming up in the Opposition. Mevani had been constantly on the move raising important people-centric issues. He was among the first to have toured the areas that witnessed communal violence recently. Registering a case against him in far off Assam is just a tool to harass him,” said eminent activist Manishi Jani, who besides having participated in the Navnirman Andolan of the early 1970s has been keenly observing social and political developments in Gujarat.

The Navnirman Andolan had influenced Jayaprakash Narayan to spearhead a students movement underway in Bihar that eventually grew into a call for Sampoorna Kranti or Total Revolution in India.

People in Gujarat are also connecting Mevani’s arrest with the former Vadgam MLA Manilal Vaghela of the Congress joining the Bharatiya Janata Party in the presence of state BJP chief CR Paatil on Sunday. It is being speculated that the orange party might field Vaghela against Mevani in the forthcoming polls.

Meanwhile, the Congress too has been organizing protests against the arrest of Mevani in parts of Gujarat and Assam. Senior party leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted in his defence saying, “Modi ji, you can try to crush dissent by abusing the state machinery. But you can never imprison the truth. #DaroMat #SatyamevaJayate.” [Don’t be afraid, only the truth ever wins.]

But observers say the Congress needs to show some political imagination and convert events into a national level programme of action as the arrest of an elected people’s representative is a grim event in a democracy.

The civil society organization Anhad issued a statement saying, “Rather than doing anything to stop the communal violence in India and continuing not to speak on these glaring issues, the current BJP regime, with the help of Assam and Gujarat governments have orchestrated this frivolous case against Jignesh Mevani.

“On one hand, Assam Police have arrested and extradited Jignesh Mevani in the middle of the night like a criminal, whereas on the other hand, Gujarat Police have been intimidating and harassing members of Jignesh’s family members and his associates in Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch.”

Anhad added, “Today, all Indian citizens are living in an undeclared emergency. If an elected political representative can be harassed by police of another state like this, just imagine what this authoritarian regime is capable of doing to ordinary citizens and organizations who dare to speak against them. With such actions people are being pushed to the brink of civil strife with large sections living in fear.”