Independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani announced Saturday that he will join the Congress on September 28 along with former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar — a move that has been in the making, and was confirmed by party leaders in Delhi.
They will join in the Capital, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel. The date has a symbolic value as it is Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary.
A Dalit leader, Mevani, 41, first emerged along with Hardik and Alpesh Thakore as the youth face challenging the BJP dominance in Gujarat during the 2017 Assembly elections. Kanhaiya, 34, is the firebrand former JNU student union president who caught national attention with speeches against the Modi government, and then went on to unsuccessfully try his hand at electoral politics as a CPI candidate.
However, since then, much water has flowed under the bridge for both leaders — even as the Congress is in rockier waters than before. So, what do the two bring to the party table? The opinion in the grand old party, as usual, is divided. Some leaders dismayingly see in it the Gandhi siblings’ proclivity to lurch towards the Left.
In a brief statement, Mevani, who had won from the reserved Vadgam Assembly seat in north Gujarat in 2017, with the backing of the Congress, said: “On September 28, I will be joining the Indian National Congress along with Kanhaiya Kumar. I have nothing more to say till then.”
Welcoming “all revolutionary leaders willing to work for the country and strengthen the Congress” Saturday, Hardik said they should do so “without worrying about their personal ambitions and challenges”. Calling Mevani “an old friend” while speaking to PTI, he said Mevani’s entry would strengthen the Congress in the state and at the national level.
Hardik’s reference to “personal ambitions” is interesting given his own frustration within the Congress, which he joined in 2019 after leading a successful Patidar agitation against the BJP. In an interview to The Indian Express, he had said the state leadership did not give him any work and was trying to “pull me down”.
During the debate for the JNU student union president’s post in 2015, Kanhaiya, the candidate of the CPI student wing AISF, had shown his oratorical skills with paraphrasing of a couplet to famously attack both the BJP and Congress: “Barbaad Hindustan karne ko ek hi Congress kafi tha… Har rajya main BJP baitha hai, barbaad e gulistan kya hoga.”
Apart from the fact that both Kumar and Mevani are fiery speakers, the Congress also has state-specific calculations.
While Mevani was in talks with the Congress much before the BJP changed its entire ministry in Gujarat, the revamp has made his choice even more significant for the party given the new caste dynamics. The BJP’s new chief minister is a Patel, while AAP too is focusing on the community in its foray into the state that goes to polls next year. The Congress strategy seems to be to woo the OBCs and Dalits. Mevani had emerged as the face of the Dalit protests in Gujarat in the wake of the Una flogging incident.
Hardik, who has been trying for the Congress to make him the state chief, is said to have worked behind the scenes for Mevani’s induction.
Many Congress leaders in Gujarat see the move as timely, given the long stasis in the state unit. The party has not been able to appoint an AICC in-charge for Gujarat since Rajiv Satav’s death in May. Party leaders have been pushing for a clear signal to the OBC and Dalit community.
Mevani’s induction, along with the elevation of Scheduled Caste leader Charanjit Singh Channi as Chief Minister of Punjab (also seen as a pick of the younger Gandhis), is expected to give the Congress talking points in its quest to reach out to the community.
In Bihar too, the Congress has been stuck in a limbo, with AICC in-charge Bhakta Charan Das giving multiple proposals to the high command for reorganisation of the Bihar unit without a decision. Sources said the party had delayed the appointment of a new state president in view of Kanhaiya’s induction.
The Congress has been in political wilderness in Bihar for the last three decades, even seen as dragging down ally RJD in the Assembly elections last year. It had won only 19 of the 70 seats it contested.
Mevani and Kanhaiya fit in with the former Left leaders who are part of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s tight circle now. For instance, a key member in Priyanka’s team is Sandeep Singh, a former AISA leader from JNU. AISA is the student’s wing of the CPI(ML) Liberation. Mohit Pandey, another former JNUSU president from AISA, used to head the social media department of the Uttar Pradesh Congress, which Priyanka oversees as AICC general secretary.
Apart from this, the Congress hopes the entry of Kanhaiya and Mevani will be good optics given the fact that several young leaders — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Laliteshpati Tripathi – have left the party in the last two years. The first battleground where the party may use the two is Uttar Pradesh.
With ENS, Ahmedabad