Jignesh Mevani's Delhi Rally On As Cops Wait With Tear Gas, Water Cannons

Jignesh Mevani has been accused of inciting the recent caste clashes at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune that spread across Maharashtra. A case has been filed against him in Pune


Yuva Hunkar rally: 1,500 police and paramilitary personnel are at Delhi's Jantar Mantar.

New Delhi:  Delhi's Jantar Mantar and Parliament Street turned into a fortress this morning as nearly 1,500 police and paramilitary personnel, armed with tear gas and 10 water cannons, took up position to foil the youth rally called by newly-elected Gujarat legislator and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.

The organisers are going ahead with the rally, even though the police have refused permission."We were just going to demonstrate democratically and peacefully, the government is targeting us, an elected representative is not being allowed to speak," Mr Mevani told reporters.

The 37-year-old lawyer-activist - accused of inciting the recent caste clashes at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune that spread across Maharashtra - had announced his intention last week to visit Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Office during the rally. Last week, a case had been filed against him in Pune, accusing him of spreading enmity among castes.

The Delhi Police have cited a green court order that bans protests in the heart of the city. "Nobody has been given permission. Since there is an NGT (National Green Tribunal) order that no protest can be staged at Jantar Mantar, we have asked organisers to hold the protest at alternate sites like Ramlila Maidan," senior police officer Ajay Chaudhary has said. Last week, the Mumbai police had refused permission for an event where Mr Mevani was one of the speakers.

The Yuva Hunkar rally is meant to seek the release of Chandrashekhar Azad, a Dalit leader, who was arrested last June over the caste clashes in Saharanpur, in which two persons were killed and at least 20 people were injured. Around 40 people were arrested after the clashes, which continued for the better part of May. While the Bhim Army, a group he formed, maintained it was championing the cause of Dalits, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had called the clashes the result of a "well-planned conspiracy".

In Maharashtra, right-wing groups have accused Mr Mevani of instigating the clashes that took place on New Year's Day while Dalits had gathered to observe the bicentennial of the Anglo-Maratha war at Bhima-Koregaon. A young Maratha man had died in the clashes. Mr Mevani had attended a function in the area the day before.

The lawmaker from Gujarat's Vadgaon, who won the recent assembly elections with the support of the Congress, has denied the accusations. He has also hinted that the arrest was a retaliatory move by the BJP, which was feeling "threatened" by his "growing popularity".

Ahead of today's rally, Mr Mevani had criticized the Prime Minister in strong terms, accusing him of failing to speak out against the atrocities Dalits are facing.  Speaking at a press conference in Delhi on Friday, he had said that he intended to knock at the PM's door with two books, the Manusmriti and the Constitution, "and ask him what he chooses".

"If Dalits continue to be targeted and my reputation is continued to be tarnished, Mr PM, we will teach you a lesson in 2019," he had said.

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