From Mareez to Modi: Why Jignesh Mevani is grappling with Marxism
The Gujarat MLA seems to have migrated from Leftist to a left-of-centre socialist ideology to enter mainstream politics.
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Four years ago, Jignesh Mevani was happy to get lost in the bylanes of Surat’s Zampa Bazaar area while he was deeply immersed in retracing Gujarati ghazal writer Mareez’s life. So deeply involved was he, that he often became incommunicado for a few days, disconnected from his family and, in the process, discovered a few verses written by this famous "ghazalkar" that were hitherto unknown.
The man who courted the country’s attention and kept the security agencies on toes through the day on Tuesday (January 9) and the better part of first week of 2018 is defined more by poetry and philosophy than political ideology.
Image: PTI photo
A day after he won the Assembly election from Vadgam constituency in Banaskantha, a district in north Gujarat, Mevani was hanging out at his favourite road-side sandwich stall on Ashram Road in Ahmedabad by the Sabarmati riverfront having cheese-jam sandwich. “We did it. There’s a lot to do, and this is just the beginning. I am going to storm the Assembly,” he kept on repeating.
Mevani’s surprise and child-like euphoria at his victory was palpable. He was visibly impacted by the love and adulation showered on him by people in his constituency as well as his locality in Ahmedabad. “Yesterday as I returned home in Meghaninagar, someone showered me with milk. I was completely drenched,” he recalled with his characteristic brisk style, explaining why his phone was unreachable for better part of the next day.
Thirty five-year-old Mevani is a graduate in arts and postgraduate in law, has worked as a journalist and loves poetry and ghazals over prose and fiction. He has assisted late lawyer activist Mukul Sinha in defending post-Godhra Gujarat riots victims. In the defining years when the Nanavati-Shah Commission was listening in on Narendra Modi’s role in the riots, Mevani was often seen with Sinha who was defending the victims of Naroda Patiya case in the Commission. A decade ago, those were his defining years. Mevani always had plans for a political career, but one believes in those years when he was figuring out his inclinations, he did not see himself emerging as a caste leader.
Paradoxical as it may sound in light of the events of the last few months, he did not consider his caste as his route to his politics. Deeply influenced by Karl Marx, Mevani’s struggle is led more by class upliftment than social movement opposing caste bias. In 2016, the Una struggle saw him seeking agricultural land allotted to Dalits from the state government. He also led a movement asking Dalit communities involved in skinning dead animals to stop doing that. Both these issues, he repeatedly said, were core to bring the Dalit community out of the economic class pigeonhole, which would eventually lead the community to caste emancipation as well.
However, of late, one has seen him undergoing an internal struggle of migrating from his long-held Leftist ideology to a left-of-centre socialist ideology to enter mainstream politics. Much as he is (in)famous as a Dalit leader, in his mind his caste is not his fundamental identity. He sees himself as a human rights activist and naturally identifies with subaltern communities. A close look at his politics in Vadgam will reveal he has sided with the Muslim community as he believes it has been sidelined under the current BJP regime. One of his more controversial statement was when he said if he had a sister he would marry her to a Muslim man.
The biggest challenge ahead of him is uniting the multiple Scheduled Caste (SC) communities. Even as he repeatedly criticises Manusmriti, the fact is his closest advisors are all Brahmins. A close friend of his, a Brahmin incidentally, says, “Mevani is against casteism, not Brahmins, as most Dalit leaders are.” This is also one of the reasons other communities and Dalit leaders are not with him. So while he doesn’t have much vitriol for Brahmins, he serves up his worst for Narendra Modi. Of late, his anti-Modi rant and hate for the PM has become his defining characteristic.
Mainstreaming the community is very important to him, and hence the first step for him is mainstreaming his own acceptability. He is actively reaching out to every subaltern community across the country, and claims he has been getting positive reception. Mevani claims to have clear plans to penetrate different states one after the other.
As India is witnessing the rise of a young Dalit leader, Mevani has a lot of expectations riding on his shoulders as representative of modern India. Whether his philosophy and poetry of Mareez holds him in good stead will be intriguing to witness.