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Will join Congress close to polls, need to break ‘illusion’ of Gujarat model, says Mevani

In interview with ThePrint, Independent MLA from Vadgam talks about arrest and rearrest by Assam police, upcoming Gujarat elections, and what his role in Congress will be.  

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New Delhi: A day after he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for an ‘Azadi’ march he organised without permission in 2017, Jignesh Mevani, the Independent MLA from Vadgam in Gujarat, told ThePrint he was going to join the Congress around the time of the state assembly elections later this year.

Over the last few days, Mevani has been arrested, and then rearrested, by the Assam Police, before being sentenced to three months of imprisonment in the 2017 case. He’s currently out on bail.

In an interview with ThePrint, Mevani spoke about how these days have affected him, his plans to join the Congress, his opposition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and how he wants to help break the “illusion of the Gujarat model” of governance.

“I will be joining the Congress party just around the elections,” Mevani said. “They have been standing with me firmly in this entire episode in Assam, and provided me with top-quality lawyers. And party workers from Kokrajhar, Barpeta as well as the Assam PCC president have been with me.”

The 41-year-old Vadgam MLA extended his support to the Congress in 2021, but couldn’t officially join the party because of the anti-defection law. Joining the party would have meant risking disqualification from the assembly.

“I decided not to be greedy,” he said. “Why should I deprive my constituency of an MLA?”

His first job in the Congress, once he joins, will be to help coordinate between the party’s Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Other Backward Classes, and minority wings, he said.

Although the Gujarat elections will be his focus for now, he will eventually turn to Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — both of which will hold assembly elections towards the end of next year.

Mevani was once seen as part of a young trio of up-and-coming leaders in Gujarat, along with Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor. All three have been associated with the Congress, though Thakor has since left to join the BJP.

Mevani said Thakor is still his friend, but he was disappointed to see him join the BJP.

“I hope he comes back to the Congress. Our hearts and doors are open for him,” Mevani said. “The impact that Hardik, he, and I had in 2017 was really inspiring, not just in Gujarat but outside the state as well.”

Also Read: BJP launches ‘Mission 2024’, identifies over 74,000 booths across India where it is weak

‘BJP is trying to destroy me’

Mevani claimed his arrest over a tweet against Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an attempt by the BJP and RSS to not just distract him from the Gujarat elections, but also “destroy” him.

He was arrested by the Assam Police from Palanpur, a town in Gujarat, on 19 April and taken to Kokrajhar. Almost as soon as got bail in that case, he was rearrested in a second case, for allegedly assaulting a woman police officer. A court in Assam later called the second FIR false.

“They’ve become brazen and gone berserk. They are filing cases against me in Karnataka and Maharashtra,” he said. “They know my reach is not just confined to Gujarat. When I speak, I tweet, I do interviews, I conduct rallies, when I protest, my voice reaches all across India. There are millions of people and youngsters, especially from Dalit and Bahujan communities, (who) love me and see me as a hope. I can be a big threat for BJP and RSS in the longer term.”

He added that he was shaken, but undeterred.

“To be very honest, it’s not been easy. I got picked up in the most brazen manner and was taken all the way to Assam, 2,500 km away. I could not contact my parents or my lawyers. The BJP wants to tarnish my image,” he said.

Also Read: Submit list of projects that can be approved before polls, Gujarat BJP tells MPs & MLAs

Breaking the ‘Gujarat model illusion’

Mevani’s strategy for the Gujarat elections is to break the “illusion of the Gujarat model”.

His strategy, he said, is to highlight some pressing problems in Gujarat: Unemployment, inflation, the state’s 45 per cent malnourished children and 55 per cent anaemic women, the water crisis in Kachchh and Saurashtra, and the exploitation of ASHA workers, safai karamcharis and police constables.

“These are the real issues which we will raise, not mandir-masjid. Our plan is to raise these issues and BJP’s plan is to target the people who raise these issues,” he said.

Mevani still sees the Gujarat elections as a two-way fight between the Congress and the BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party, which he was once part of, has no presence in Gujarat, and almost no prospect, he claimed. His statement comes despite the fact that AAP secured 21 per cent votes in the 2021 Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation election.

He conceded that the recent assembly elections that saw the BJP sweep to power in Uttar Pradesh and retain its hold on Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa will have some  “psychological impact” on the Gujarat elections. But he added that the BJP was going to be unseated in Gujarat, ending its nearly three-decades-long uninterrupted rule in the state.

“There is no Gujarat model now,” he said. “There is anti-incumbency due to the Covid mismanagement. Then there’s the fact that they had to change the cabinet so close the elections. All this shows that the situation is bad for them, while the Congress has been working quietly.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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