Updated: November 28, 2017 6:22:04 am
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who will contest from Vadgam in Banaskantha, has not only the Congress but also the Aam Aadmi Party behind him. Both have opted out of the contest, giving Mevani a straight contest against the BJP. He filed his nomination as an independent Monday.
Although his home turf is Ahmedabad, Mevani said he preferred rural Gujarat because Dalit issues are larger there. “After a lot of discussion with my team, we decided on Vadgam because it has a large Muslim and Dalit population, which will work in our favour,” said Jignesh, convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM) and spearhead of the protests against attacks on Dalits in Una.
Of Vadgam taluka’s population of 2.40 lakh (Census 2011), Scheduled Castes constituted 16.2% and Muslims 25.3%. The Congress holds the seat, now with 2.61 lakh voters.
“I did not want to contest the elections but people insisted that I do, and after a number of calls I got from Deesa, Vav, Tharad and other places, we decided I would contest,” Mevani told The Indian Express. “Even if I was not fighting the elections, I will fight for the rights of the rights of Dalits , Muslims and other backward communities.”
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In the morning, he had tweeted about his decision to contest and appealed to other parties not to field candidates from Vadgam. The Congress responded immediately by asking its sitting MLA Manibhai Vaghela not to contest.
“I will now contest from Idar. If the party says so, Congress workers will help Jignesh in Vadgam,” Vaghela told The Indian Express over the phone.
AAP issued a press release: “The AAP has decided not to field any candidate from Vadgam… Looking at [his] appeal… the party believes that the contest should be between the BJP and Jignesh Mewani.”
A number of independent candidates are contesting from Vadgam but Mevani is optimistic that the votes will not spilit. “We are hoping people will give our fight a chance,” he said.
Vadgam is considered a stronghold of the Congress, which has won the seat 3 times in the last 4 elections. What is striking is the number of times that candidates from outside Vadgam have won the seat.
The Congress’s Dolat Parmar, who won with margins of 35,000 votes in 1998 and 65,000 in 2002, belongs to Deesa city of Banaskantha. In 2007, the BJP snatched the seat; senior Congress leaders attribute the defeat to the presence of a strong independent in the fray, Dinesh Parmar, who bagged 17,000 votes that the Congress believes it would have won. In 2012, Manilal Vaghela brought the seat back to the Congress, winning by 90,000 seats; he belongs to Sabarkantha district.
“We have generally supported the Congress and this time it is a new face for us. But in Vadgam, it has always been outsiders who have won. There has hardly been anyone from Vadgam who has contested and won,” said Iqbal Bihari, who runs a tyre repair shop in Vadgam.
Vadgam has a strong independent candidate this time, too, in a popular activist named Balkrishna Jeerala. Village elders noted, however, that he is sympathetic towards the Congress. “If Jeerala decides to withdraw, then it will be easy for Jignesh. Otherwise, he could become this year’s Dinesh Parmar and split the votes. The challenge is tough, for no one knows Jignesh,” said Ramesh Parmar, 50, who runs a grocery shop in Vadgam.
Asked about other parties opting out for Mevani, BJP candidate Vijay Chakravarthi said, “I don’t know this name. I belong to a party that has development as its agenda and our iconic leader is an example we all follow. I will work to ensure the party wins in Vadgam. We are working for development of all and I will continue to do the same.”
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