Independent legislator from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani speaks on his reasons for joining the Congress, the Opposition make-up for the 2024 general election and the political situation in Gujarat.
Why the Congress?
As I pointed out in the press conference with Kanhaiya, in this era of unprecedented crisis, when destruction of democracy is at work, the fascist forces have taken over all the organs of the State, when they have become desperate to replace the Indian Constitution with Manusmriti, when they have damaged and distorted all our democratic institutions, in this situation, if you are not able to to dislodge the BJP from power, then we are gone as a nation.
And to save our nation, Constitution, our social fabric, to save our idea of India, we need a big platform and the Congress being the ‘Grand Old Party’ is probably the only biggest platform available. I don’t want to claim that other components don’t have a role to play. I believe academicians, activists, journalists, scholars… All of us have a role. But there can’t be a formation of an Opposition without the Congress being at the helm of it. Importantly, Rahul Gandhi gives us the confidence that he will never compromise with the RSS and the BJP.
In 2017 too, you were in talks with the Congress but didn’t join. What has changed since then?
I just wanted to carry on my journey as an activist-cum-politician, as an Independent MLA. You may work as a freelance journalist for five years and then you may feel the need to work in a mainstream group. Even if I had won as an Independent legislator for the second time, I would pretty much repeat what I have already achieved. But if I want to expand, to reach out to more people… then the Congress is the best platform. I have had several meetings with Rahul Gandhi. He is an extremely genuine and a well-meaning person. It will be a good journey to go ahead with him.
The Congress is at its lowest ebb. There has been a mass exodus of leaders from the party because of successive electoral defeats. Why now?
I don’t care about what is happening with the party, I care about what is happening in the country. I have two options in front of me, either I can be cynical about those who are leaving the Congress or I can be optimistic and be hopeful about those planning to join the party. I would rather choose the second option. Hardik Patel, Kanhaiya Kumar, Revanth Reddy have joined and more are coming.
Prashant Kishor yesterday [Oct. 8] said that there are deep-rooted problems and structural weaknesses in the ‘Grand Old Party’. Do you agree with the diagnosis?
Being a newcomer, I am not in a position to make a comment beyond a point. Anybody can have an opinion, not my place to comment on it.
Since you have worked for long as an Independent legislator and an activist, will you be able to work within the push and pull of a behemoth party like the Congress?
Only time can answer this question. But one thing I can say for sure is that I am a fighter, there will be struggle, there will be ups and down but finally I shall settle down.
How do you counter the narrative that ultimately boils down to Hindu-Muslim binary?
The BJP tries to reduce everything down to Hindu-Muslim binary, but it doesn’t work always. The 2017 Gujarat Assembly election and 2020 Bihar election are examples. In both these polls, unemployment became a big issue. That is what we will be focussing on as a team. Inflation, unemployment and mismanagement of COVID -19 will be key issues on which we will counter the BJP.
Also read: Congress-Prashant Kishor relationship sours
The BJP did an extensive Cabinet reshuffle in Gujarat. Wouldn’t this help them in removing the anti-incumbency factor?
The reshuffle was clearly because the RSS or an independent agency that they roped in conveyed to them the truth that in the next Assembly poll they will not cross 55-65 seats. The reshuffle is a reaction to this feedback. But those who lost their loved ones will not forget what they went through. Those who desperately ran from pillar to post looking for hospital beds, Remedesivir injections, oxygen cylinders and so on… can never forgive the BJP. As a citizen, I expected the BJP to improve the public health infrastructure, instead their solution is to do a Cabinet reshuffle.
After the West Bengal Assembly election, there has emerged a race for the lead Opposition role. Doesn’t this disarray in the Opposition suit the BJP?
In 2024, there can be no Opposition without the Congress being at the centre of it. At the same time, there has to be better appreciation of other components of the Opposition. Three, all the anti-BJP forces must come together beyond their personal ambition and interests. And this unity should not just be limited to seat-sharing arrangement. They must be seen fighting together on the issues that matter to the public. We, as forces of the Opposition, are not willing to get rid of our pettiness.
What is your reply to this regular question: if not Modi, then who?
If not Modi, then me! I am educated, honest and hard-working. But jokes apart, the answer to the question ‘if not Modi, then who?’ is: we, the people.