Gujarat: 2016 Case Against Political Protesters Resurrected
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani sentenced to six months simple imprisonment
Apart from theatrics that have become the hallmark of elections in India over the last few years, certain other developments are adding up to the political potboiler in Gujarat.
On Friday the state's firebrand Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, along with 18 others, was sentenced by a court in Ahmedabad, to six months simple imprisonment for a protest dating back to 2016. A fine has also been reportedly imposed on Mevani and his associates. The court has suspended their sentence till October 17.
In 2016, Mevani, who is now a Gujarat Congress working president, had along with his associates of Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch organised a protest demanding that a building under construction in the Gujarat University be named after Dalit icon Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar. Mevani and the others had blocked a road for some time during that protest. The case made against them was of unlawful assembly and rioting.
Mevani is a sitting MLA from Vadgam in North Gujarat. He had won as an independent candidate in 2017 with the support of the Congress. He was appointed the working president of the party sometime back.
In May this year, he had been sentenced in another case pertaining to taking out a rally without permission in Mehsana. In April he had been arrested by Assam police in two cases, one pertaining to criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media, and another of an alleged molestation. The latter charge had been reportedly labelled as a 'false case' by the court. He had been granted bail in both the cases.
Questions are being raised regarding the registration of cases against him and also convictions in previous ones as apprehensions are now being aired whether he will be able to contest the forthcoming polls or not.
Subodh Parmar who is Mevani's close associate and is a practicing lawyer said, "we will appeal in the Sessions Court, and if need be in the High Court as well. He will contest the elections." Parmar is also one of those convicted in the 2016 case.
"Jignesh is the one who has been raising the maximum number of pro people issues. Those who think that these cases and convictions can silence him are wrong. Such developments will not stop more and more people from associating with him. Neither will there be any impact on the morale of Jignesh, his associates and supporters," he added.
Mevani had also tweeted, "Jail to protestors and release of rapists (in Bilkis Bano case)."
The conviction of Mevani and his associates follows another interesting development of former minister in the state Vipul Chaudhary being held by Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) in a case of alleged financial irregularities amounting to Rs 800 crores at Dudhsagar Dairy in Mehsana. He had headed the Dudhsagar Dairy in the past.
Mevani had termed Chaudhary's arrest as a 'political conspiracy' aimed at stopping the latter's growing influence in North Gujarat.
Aam Aadmi Party's Plan
These two developments have followed yet another dramatic visit of Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to the state that is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union Home Minister Amit Shah. Kejriwal is effectively using the same tools to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that were once a forte of the saffron force in its cradle of Gujarat.
"The AAP has been using the same strategy that has come to be associated with the BJP. It is marked by raising the din on claims that are repeated again and again. Among the strategies is also the element of the Town Hall or public dialogue meetings where you directly address distinct sections of the society. Kejriwal has adopted this strategy instead of going in for large public meetings that can be disrupted or disallowed at his point of time," said an Ahmedabad based observer.
Kejriwal marked his tour meeting with auto drivers, lawyers and businessmen. He promised a fear-free environment to the businessmen in Gujarat when AAP is elected to power along with a goods and service tax (GST) regime that the businessmen want.
"I myself come from a business family. I know how much tension the businessmen have. Most of the people are unhappy with GST. Recently a person told me that there is also a problem of compliance, and of rate. These people have made GST so difficult that even after giving money to a chartered accountant, there is a mess somewhere. This needs to be simplified. We will simplify the GST at the level of Gujarat and also try to simplify it by raising our voice at the level of the central government," he said.
At the same time he promised the lawyers an Advocate Protection Act besides a scheme of a minimum remuneration to the new advocates.
His dramatic visit to an auto driver's house for a meal in the latter's auto rickshaw, flanked by security vehicles, made headlines as his detractors went on to attack him for similar tactics in Punjab earlier this year, and in Delhi much before.
Kejriwal capped his visit with a guarantee of making Gujarat corruption free if AAP is elected to power in the state.
But AAP's prospective ally Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) distancing itself has come as a dampener to Kejriwal's party. It is being speculated that the BTP might join hands with the Congress ahead of the polls.
PM's Birthday and Other BJP Plans
Meanwhile, the BJP too is going about its business steadily. The present move was to make a spectacle of Modi's birthday as friendly institutions and organisations begin hosting events. Besides, several public outreach programmes get underway over the next few days. Prominent among them is the 'Sewa Pakhwadyu (fortnight). Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel continues with his 'Sneh Milan' programmes targeting various communities and his government continues announcing sops.
At the same time the party has launched attacks on the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' undertaken by the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Terming the initiative as 'Bharat Todo Yatra' the BJP has started raking up the issue of 1984 anti Sikh riots.
The party's leaders are also taking on the AAP leadership's claims on education and health being offered to the people of Delhi and Punjab. They are also continuing with their attacks on AAP through the Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar's association with the party in the past.
The water levels of the Narmada reservoir rising almost to the brim along with many other dams owing to a good monsoon, are being attributed to the party's development oriented measures.
But there have been certain developments within the BJP as well that have intrigued political observers. Prominent among them is former CM Vijay Rupani being moved out of Gujarat to be made the in-charge of party affairs in Punjab.
There are two interpretations doing the rounds on this. The first is attributed to the party factionalism in Saurashtra. It is being said that the BJP wanted to give a freehand to former Karnataka governor Vajubhai Vala in the region.
Vala has returned home to Rajkot which is also the home ground of Rupani. The two are not known to get along well. Incidentally it was Vala who had vacated his seat for the by-polls won by Modi after he was made the CM in 2001.
The second interpretation is of Rupani's differences with state party chief CR Paatil ever since he along with his entire cabinet was replaced by Bhupendra Patel last year. "Things will become much clearer once Modi addresses a couple of rallies and takes the centre stage. There is a lot to come as polls approach," pointed an observer.