Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee working presidentJignesh Mevani, who is representing Vadgam in Banaskantha district, exudes confidence that the Congress will romp home with success in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections. Accompanied by his friend and Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar, Mr. Mevani filed his nomination on Tuesday. Excerpts from an interview with The Hindu’s Abhinay Deshpande:
What are the challenges for the Congress in the upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat?
We are better placed than last time. We have karyakartas (party officials) in each and every booth. We have ‘ jan mitras’ (people’s friends) in every panchayat and our Parivartan Sankalp Yatra across the State has begun. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is visiting Gujarat frequently. Secondly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no longer appealing, accepting and exciting to the people of Gujarat. In rallies where they [the BJP] are able to mobilise 40,000 to 50,000 people, most of them are government employees. Instructions are being given to the district administration to bring ASHA and Anganwadi workers, police constables, and mid-day meal employees [to the rallies]. People are not voluntarily coming to their [the BJP’s] rallies. For the first time, I am of the view that BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) cadre are not very enthusiastically defending Mr. Modi. Earlier, when someone used to say something against Mr. Modi, they would go berserk. Not anymore. People started saying, ‘ Dadagiri aur tanashahi bahut badh gayi hai BJP ki’ (the BJP’s intimidating and domineering behaviour has increased a lot).
What do you think are the planks on which the Congress is campaigning?
While reacting and responding to what the BJP and the RSS have done, we have come up with a positive, proactive, progressive blueprint to create a new Gujarat. Our leader Rahul Gandhi has already promised schemes like free medical insurance of ₹10 Lakh, implementing the old pension scheme, setting up 3,000 English medium schools, ₹4 lakh compensation for those who lost their family members due to COVID-19, loan waiver for farmers, and a housing plot or agricultural lands for landless people. We are focusing on unemployment and inflation. Inflation is ‘the issue’ during this election. Be it the middle class, the lower middle class, farmers, SCs (Scheduled Castes), STs (Scheduled Tribes), or minorities, everybody is suffering from price rises. [This is] apart from the exploitation of outsourcing and contractual employees by the current government.
Will the AAP dent the Congress’s votes, as claimed by the BJP?
I don’t think so. If elections were held tomorrow, they [the AAP] would draw a big zero. Making noise on social media and organising town halls doesn’t mean that their organisational base is strong here and they can win the elections. Our party has a strong grassroots base, and even if they cut our votes, what is their commitment to fighting against the fascist forces to save the Indian Constitution and democracy which is captured and monopolised by Hindutva forces? Like Christophe Jaffrelot has rightly said in his book Modi’s India that the kind of ethnic democracy Modi, BJP and RSS try to establish will further embolden and enhance forces like the AAP, which is a risk for the nation. It simply means the BJP will have a similar kind of force in opposition, a force which has no idea about this country.
Is it part of the Congress’s strategy to let the State leadership take the lead role rather than relying on top bosses in Delhi?
Our central leadership will be guiding us. I have a better idea of what exactly the Dalits of Gujarat want. Our Amit Chavda, PCC chief Jagdish Thakor, and Bharat Singh Solanki have a better idea about the requirements of OBCs. While school teacher-turned-MLA Ananth Patel, a star emerging from the tribal community, knows how to win tribal votes. We need their [the Delhi leadership’s] guidance and support, but, Gujarat ka chunav tho Gujarat ke neta ladenge na? (Gujarat elections will be fought by Gujarat leaders, right?)
It was a rare opportunity for you as an independent candidate to serve the people of your constituency. Are you happy with your work?
It has been a struggle, challenge and a constant conflict with myself. There was a great mismatch between what I wanted to do and what people wanted me to do. But, despite all of that, I can assure you, my performance has been good. There is not a single thing that BJP can say against me during this election. Last time, they called me anti-national, anti-Hindu. But, no such propaganda is going to work this time. Even BJP supporters, who won’t vote for me, are saying ‘Jignesh has done good work’. Dalits, Muslims and tribals of my constituency know that I stand for secular India.
Last time, you openly claimed the AAP supported you in the election, but this time they fielded their candidate, and even the BJP has fielded Manilal Vaghela, who represented the seat from 2012 to 2017 as a Congress legislator. Don’t you think it will be a tough fight?
They [the AAP] don’t have much space on the ground. I am well placed in my constituency. And like I have said, my performance has been more than satisfying for people. I will be able to crack it [winning the election] and I don’t have any apprehensions. When it comes to Mr. Vaghela, my fight is not against him, it is against Mr. Modi. Here [in the Vadgam Assembly constituency], it will not be just BJP versus Congress, but it will also be Modi versus Mevani.