What do you think of your alma mater, Ahmedabad-based Shri H K Arts College, cancelling a festival to be attended by you as chief guest following alleged pressure from BJP student leaders?
I owe a lot to H K (Arts College). Till I was 20, I didn’t have any exposure to the arts, literature, cinema. But between 20-23 years, at H K, (Mirza) Ghalib, (Charlie) Chaplin, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Gujarati poet Mareez, Vincent van Gogh, and many grass-roots activists were introduced to me.
So, it was exciting to be invited as a chief guest. I have been most critical of (Narendra) Modi. At this function, I was to talk about my struggle and years at H K Arts College, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. But, the college trustees completely failed me… My first lesson at 23 years was that one must rise to the occasion, take a position…
Such threats (from protesters) have become normal for me, Hardik (Patel) and Kanhaiya (Kumar). Trustees, including Padma and Jnanpith awardees, cowering before a few lumpen elements of the BJP is pathetic and unexpected… In the last two years, I must have spoken at several colleges and universities in the country, but never in any in Gujarat… It shows how dry and dead the civil society of Gujarat is…
They (the RSS-BJP) talk about mandir-masjid, I (wanted to) talk about health and education. They talk about Ram and Rahim, I talk about Buddha and Kabir. I want to talk about unemployment… I want to tell youths we do not want to go to Kumbh or Ayodhya, we need to go to ISRO and PRL (Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad). We need to go to libraries and universities… We do not want to be lost in… Pushpak Viman.
What issues will dominate in the coming Lok Sabha elections?
I believe there are more more chances of Modi not returning as Prime Minister. Sixty nine per cent (people) who did not vote for the NDA or Narendrabhai in 2014 have no reason to vote for the NDA or Narendrabhai in 2019. And the 31 per cent people (who voted for the BJP) have been shaken by issues like demonetisation. Apart from that, due to alliances like the Congress-JD(S) in Karnataka, success (of the Congress) in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the SP-BSP alliance, the strong ground on which Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejriwal stand in their states etc, the BJP’s tally will come down by at least 100 seats.
Elections are not fought on data, but emotions and sentiments. The BJP has one sentimental issue, which is religion. They may try to generate communal flare-up through Kumbh, Ram Mandir, riots, war with Pakistan.
Will you contest the Lok Sabha polls?
The 2016 Una episode established you as a Dalit youth leader. Do you see yourself growing beyond that mould?
I am naturally beyond caste. Dalits also need to go beyond caste… Because I am exposed not only to Ambedkar and Phule, but also to Chaplin, van Gogh, Ghalib and Faiz, my consciousness has always been beyond caste… However there is a solid attempt by the media to brand me as a Dalit leader.
Sixty-crore youth of this country are below 30, and I am their voice. I would like to be known as a creative, innovative Dalit, youth leader. And I feel people look at me more as a youth leader than a Dalit leader now.
Hardik Patel has supported the 10 per cent EWS quota for general category, but you oppose it.
There is contradiction and a conflict. But an unprecedented crisis unleashed by fascist forces will lead to unprecedented alliances. I have realised as an activist, a politician that if you try to be ideologically pure, you are politically stuck… Politics is an art of navigating. I have to navigate… with least compromises.
Do you ever discuss your differences with Hardik Patel?
No, I have taken these for granted. And this wisdom comes from my organic chemistry with Kanhaiya. My pragmatism makes me an Ambedkarite….