The Gujarat Assembly on Friday witnessed Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and independent MLA Jignesh Mevani exchanging sharp comments.
The war of words occurred after Patel called Mevani a Dalit leader while seeking his vote for BJP’s tribal candidate in the upcoming Rajya Sabha (RS) polls, and Mevani retorted that he is a national Dalit youth leader whereas Patel is a Patidar leader of only North Gujarat.
The verbal duel between the two ensued when discussion on the budgetary demands of three departments – Forest & Environment, Tribal Development and Women and Child Development — was ongoing.
Mevani was the only member from the Opposition present in the House as all Congress MLAs are currently camping in Jaipur, owing to fear of poaching by the ruling BJP government before the Rajya Sabha polls scheduled on March 26.
Mevani had opposed the budgetary demands of the Tribal Development department while raising a number of issues related to tribals in Gujarat.
In his speech, senior minister for Tribal Development, Forest, Women and Child Welfare, Ganpat Vasava pointed out a number of welfare initiatives of the state government for the tribal community. He also referred to the fact that BJP has fielded a tribal woman – Ramilaben Bara – as its candidate for one of the four Rajya Sabha seats.
At this juncture, Nitin Patel had —on a lighter note— told Vasava to ask Mevani, a Dalit leader, to vote for BJP’s tribal candidate in the RS elections. Vasava then asked Mevani to take a lead in getting all the Schedule Caste (SC)/ Scheduled Tribe (ST) MLAs (of Congress) in the Gujarat Assembly to vote for Bara in the elections.
Later, during the concluding part of the discussion, Mevani raised his hand and was allowed by Speaker Rajendra Trivedi to speak. “Looking at the glow on the face of Nitinbhai (Patel), I recall a couplet; Tum itna kyu muskura rahe ho, kya gham hain jisko chhupa rahe ho,” said Mevani.
He added, “While seeking my vote, he (Nitin Patel) made a comment that I am a Dalit leader of Gujarat. I am a leader of Gujarat; a youth leader of this country. If at all I am a Dalit leader, then I am (Dalit leader) of India. You are just a Patel leader of North Gujarat. All your ruling members, while seeking my vote, should ask themselves that yesterday I had requested with folded hands if they are ready to eradicate untouchability in at least 15 villages of Gujarat. You don’t want to answer that question and want my vote? The candidate (Ramilaben Bara) for whom you are seeking my vote, did she visit the women of LRD (Lok Rakshak Dal) who agitated for 70 days (in Gandhinagar)?”
Recently, around 30 women from Other Backward Classes (OBC), ST and SC communities had sat in agitation for more than 70 days in Gandhinagar against a resolution of the state government on women’s reservation. The resolution bars women from reserved communities to compete in the open competition category of women in government recruitment.
Mevani’s comments invited a sharp response from Patel who was otherwise not scheduled to speak. “I should not intervene since this is a subject of Ganpatbhai (Vasava). But since he (Mevani) is giving my name repeatedly and showering affection…,” Patel said. “The glow on my face is forever. Many have come and gone. Nobody could move that glow…In BJP, we have much bigger tribal, Dalit and OBC leaders than you. We give you respect, but do not assume (that you are a superior Dalit leader) even by mistake. When winds blow high, small moths go up and then fall down…I don’t believe myself a leader. You said I am a Patidar leader of North Gujarat. I believe myself a worker. Like you, I am not a leader.”
“Storms come and many get flown away, many have been lost; you, too, will be forgotten. Nobody will remember you. I request you to stay on ground…,” Patel added while requesting the Speaker to not allow any more discussion on this.
Subsequently, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Pradeepsinh Jadeja registered a strong objection of Treasury Benches against Mevani’s comments limiting Patel to a limited caste.
“This is BJP, and we have reached where we are today by fighting against casteist atmosphere. Nitinbhai has spent his entire life in (service of) public, and we don’t have such parochial ideology to call him leader of a small community. BJP does not divide communities and throw Gujarat in riots. As a Treasury Bench, we certainly do not want to tolerate such words against our leader.”
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