Ahmedabad: Young Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani has said he will contest next month's Gujarat assembly elections as an Independent candidate from Vadgam in north Gujarat, a seat reserved for scheduled caste (SC) candidates.
Mr Mevani, 35, announced his decision to contest in a Facebook post this morning, also requesting the Congress not to field a candidate from Vadgam, so that he can make it a direct contest with the ruling BJP. "We need to expose the 22-year-old misrule of the BJP and hence should be a direct fight between me and the BJP. Request other political parties and independents to withdraw so that it's a direct contest,'' he wrote.
The Congress, which holds the Vadgam seat in the outgoing assembly, is said to be assessing Mr Mevani's request. It is yet to name a candidate from Vadgam, and sources said, it could well decide now not to field one.
The party has been reaching out to the Dalit leader hoping to draw crucial votes from his community in its attempt to wrest Gujarat from the BJP, which has been in power in the state for the last 22 years. Jignesh Mevani has met Congress vice-president and other senior leaders, but has not committed to campaigning for the party.
The Congress' Mevani outreach is part of its plan to get on its side young leaders who represent key castes that have in recent months been seen to be upset with the BJP government in the state. Other Backward Caste (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakore has joined the party, while Hardik Patel, the 24-year-old face of the Patel or Patidar quota agitation, has pledged support for the Congress' campaign after weeks of negotiations, assessing as genuine, its plan to include the powerful Patels among castes that get the benefits of affirmative action in Gujarat.
Jignesh Mevani too shot into the headlines last year when he led massive Dalit protests against the brutal beating of four Dalit men in Gujarat's Una by self-styled cow vigilantes. He has accused the BJP of failing to protect Dalits and weaker castes. Dalits, 7 percent of Gujarat voters, are traditionally seen to have voted for the Congress. But in the 2012 state elections, the BJP - riding on the Narendra Moodi wave - had managed to get a significant number of Dalit votes.
The BJP is dismissive of the Congress strategy. "As the opposition does not have any issues against us they are taking refuge in casteism. The Congress is outsourcing its campaign by bringing in symbols of casteism like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani (Dalit activist) and tribal leader Chottu Vasava," said Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani on Sunday.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal wished Mr Mevani after his announcement. "Best wishes Jignesh," Mr Kejriwal tweeted, quoting Jignesh Mevani's tweet.
Voting for the 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held on two days, December 9 and 14. Results will be announced on December 18.