Mevani gets a party, Cong a face, but will the twain meet?

But if the 41-year-old needs the Congress at a time when the BJP seems resurgent in a state that it has ruled for decades, the party needs voices and faces like Mevani if Rahul Gandhi has to carry through his ambitions to “rebuild the Congress”.

FIREBRAND Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani was in the need for a party. And having left AAP in 2016, perhaps there were few options in Gujarat for the Independent MLA backed by the Congress other than the grand old party.

But if the 41-year-old needs the Congress at a time when the BJP seems resurgent in a state that it has ruled for decades, the party needs voices and faces like Mevani if Rahul Gandhi has to carry through his ambitions to “rebuild the Congress”. His entry into the Congress was facilitated by its working president, Hardik Patel.

Mevani represents the reserved constituency of Vadgam in Banaskantha, but he belongs to neighbouring Mehsana, the district that is also home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a journalist, he worked for Abhiyaan, a fortnightly Gujarati magazine, in Mumbai, and was a member of the late lawyer-activist Mukul Sinha’s organisation Jan Sangharsh Manch, that fought for victims of the 2002 riots.

As a lawyer his petition seeking allocation of surplus government land to landless Dalits under the Gujarat Agriculture Land Ceiling Act is before the High Court. He was recently seen at a protest by employees of Ford Motors, which is shutting its manufacturing plant in Sanand.

Mevani said while had offered to resign as MLA to formally join the Congress, Rahul had told him not to hurt his voters. “It is just a matter of a few months when I could contest again on a Congress ticket,” he told The Indian Express.

Apart from bringing some fire into the ranks of the Congress, Mevani’s induction is also a factor of caste calculations — both for the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh and later Gujarat.

The Gujarat Congress unit though is watching the entry of Mevani, seen to be a Rahul import, warily. Hardik had earlier told The Indian Express how he was ignored by the local leadership. Now though Hardik’s confidants say he is more confident as he has “the backing of Rahul”.

Welcoming Mevani, state Congress chief Amit Chavda told The Indian Express, “We welcome such young leaders under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi in our collective fight against the tyrannical and atrocious government.”

However, a former Congress MP questioned the supposition that inducting Mevani would get the Congress the Dalit vote. “The Dalit votes are already divided. A caste leader cannot become a people’s leader while the reverse is possible,” he said.

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