JIGNESH MEVANI, Dalit leader and Member of the Legislative Assembly from Vadgam (Gujarat), has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When the Prime Minister sought to appropriate the legacy of B.R. Ambedkar, Mevani said: “He can quote Ambedkar from books, but does he care for his message? He does not. His politics is about exclusion of Dalits and minorities. In fact, all oppressed classes.” The recent arrests of five prominent social activists are a manifestation of “naked fascism”. Mevani was in New Delhi on September 5 to lead a rally demanding the immediate release of the activists. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline :
The arrests of human rights activists have set alarm bells ringing. On the one hand, there are allegations that the Prime Minister’s life is in danger. On the other, activists, lawyers and journalists who have nothing to do with anti-national activities are arrested. How do you look at this?
This is a four-fold attack. The first idea is to divert attention from the many failures of the [the National Democratic Alliance] government. We are looking at economic failure. The government claimed it would create two crore jobs annually. That has not happened. The Prime Minister pledged to control inflation. It has failed. There is total failure in foreign policy. You can go on and on. So, first they sought to divert attention with lynching cases. Now, these arrests are meant to take the attention away from the abysmal failure of the government. They want to create an artificial talk about dangers to the country and fill up television news space with such talk so that nobody discusses the real issues. Secondly, they want to label Dalit activists as Maoists. Thirdly, they want to create a climate of fear wherein nobody will raise his voice for Dalits. They want to discredit the Dalit movement by linking it with Maoism. Fourthly, it is a sinister move to attack tribal interests. If nobody is allowed to speak for the tribal people, the corporate lobby can enjoy a free run.
How do you look at the arrests of the five social activists?
They are totally untenable. The Prime Minister talks of social justice. But justice is denied to tribal people, to Dalits, to minorities. And to the families of the arrested activists. In many cases, the family members and friends of the activists have not been allowed to enter their homes. If you go back in time to the Bhima Koregaon incident, there have been no arrests, no compensation paid to the victims’ families. With such stark facts, all the talk of social justice is just a farce.
Following the arrests, social activists have been vocal about an undeclared Emergency.
It is an undeclared Emergency. I would say that today if Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Ambedkar had been alive, they would have not only spoken up for the activists who are under house arrest, they would have appeared as their lawyers. The way fear is being instilled into people’s minds, it is nothing but Emergency. Undeclared emergency, fascism and the sham of the Gujarat model are all on display in the arbitrary arrests of the five activists. The arrests will prove to be the BJP’s Waterloo.
What exactly happened at Bhima Koregaon on January 1 when Dalits gathered to commemorate “martyrs day” on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon?
I was not physically present there on that day. But, the reality is that, it was Dalits who were attacked on that day; they did not attack anybody. Modi calls Sambhaji Bhide his guru. He calls him tapasvi . Why is he not arresting him? [Bhide and Hindutva idealogue Milind Ekbote have been booked under several sections of the Indian Penal Code on the charge of orchestrating the Bhima Koreagon violence.] Why these double standards? Clearly, it is easy to target Dalits. The government has unleashed a Brahmanical agenda. Under it, all Dalits, even minorities are the “others”. They want to crush Dalits and minorities and silence their leaders. Such arrests are part of a well-thought-out plan to discredit the movement. I feared from day one that there was a conspiracy. A first information report was registered against me although I was not present at Bhima Koregaon. They said I had made objectionable speeches earlier. I challenge any of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders to join me in debate or play my speech at any public forum. If a single objectionable word is found in my speech, I will quit pubic life that very day.
What could be the government’s motive behind the arrests?
Again, as I perceive it from outside, the government is safeguarding the interests of the corporate lobby. The Adivasis are trying to protect their land and forests from corporate houses. In the name of development, their entire culture is being uprooted. However, most of them are too poor and uneducated to speak up. They cannot challenge the corporate might backed by the government. Under the circumstances, when a social activist takes up their cause, it is easy to silence him with fictitious charges. Anybody who speaks up for the tribal people can be labelled Maoist on trumped up charges.
The police claim that in the arrests of social activists, they have foolproof evidence— letters—to show that there was a conspiracy against the nation.
It is all fabricated. Tell me who orders arms and ammunition like that? Who will make such a stupid conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister and write down everything in a letter? It is stupid. They think we are all in kindergarten.
If the government is indeed making fictitious charges, and the very idea of an egalitarian state is at stake, why are the opposition parties not objecting to this?
They do. In their own way they do.
It is feeble...
Forget the political parties, we are the opposition. They want to silence social activists. They will not succeed.
At every step, they will find the youth of this country standing in opposition to their wicked ways. And we are getting support across different segments of society.
Will you not you agree that at the end of the day it is an age-old struggle being waged? Right-wing forces attempting to usher in a certain kind of sociopolitical order?
It is part of a Brahmanical agenda: Crush all dissent, silence all speech, muzzle all opposition. They want to go back to ancient days when people did not have freedom of speech and expression, when people lived at the mercy of Brahmins. We will fight all the way. We understand in the coming days the fight is going to get more stiff, the challenge more steep. The names will change. They will call activists anti-national, Maoists, urban naxals, or whatever. But at the end of the day, they want to silence all voices against the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the government, and nip the rising Dalit movement in the bud.