AHMEDABAD: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday met Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani in poll bound Gujarat. Hinting at supporting Congress, Mevani said that Rahul at least heard his community's demands while the "arrogant" BJP was never even interested to talk.
"In the one and a half years time of BJP government’s regime, they have not even talked about the demands of Dalit even once. This highlights their arrogance and pride. The fact that at least Rahul Gandhi is ready to talk about our issues shows a lot," Mevani added.
Jignesh Mewani, who stopped short of pledging support to the Congress, declared he would ask his followers not to vote for BJP.
The 36-year-old 'Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch' leader, who shot to prominence after the Dalit flogging incident in Gujarat's Una some time back, met Gandhi here and claimed the Congress vice president assured him that more than 90 per cent of his demands will be incorporated in the party's poll manifesto.
Gandhi and Mevani had half-an-hour closed-door meeting at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Navsari.
"Since Una (incident), we launched numerous agitations and submitted memorandums. Despite this, the thick-skinned BJP government, which is not only anti-Dalit but also anti-people, has not considered even one demand of our community. They have not even bothered to even to talk to us," Mevani told reporters after the meeting.
On the other hand, the Congress was receptive to the demands of the Dalit community, Mevani added.
Several Dalit youths were flogged in Una on suspicion of cow slaughter when they were skinning a dead animal.
"We had a detailed discussion with Rahulji on our 17 demands. Rahulji not only listened to us, but said over 90 per cent of them were our constitutional rights. He assured us that most of the legitimate demands would be included in the Congress manifesto," he said.
Asked if he would advise Dalits to vote for the Congress in the upcoming polls, Mevani said, "I will ask my community not to vote for the BJP."
The demands include five acres of farmland to each Dalit family, alternative employment for those involved in cattle- skinning and manual scavenging, and the release of a probe report on the incident of firing on the community members at Thangadh in Surendranagar district in 2012.
"We listen to everyone and work after hearing their problems -- be it Jignesh, Hardik (Patidar quota stir leader Hardik Patel) or Alpesh (OBC leader Alpesh Thakor)," Gandhi said after the meeting.
On the other hand, the BJP is only interested in making the people listen to its "Mann Ki Baat", the Congress vice president said, taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's monthly radio programme.
The Congress, out of power in the key western state for over 22 years now, has been trying to woo three young leaders who have emerged on Gujarat's political firmament in recent times through various agitations.
Alpesh Thakor, an OBC leader, has already joined the party.
Hardik Patel, the patidar quota stir leader, the most prominent among the three, has so far not declared support to the Congress, but has been critical of the BJP.
The 24-year-old recently met the Congress's incharge for Gujarat Ashok Gehlot and put forth a set of demands, including reservation for the influential Patel community in government jobs and educational institutions in the Other Backward Classes category.
The Congress, however, has promised it would provide quotas to the community under the Economically Backward Classes (EBC) category.
The first round of talks between Gujarat Congress leaders took place on October 30 but the quota issue remained unresolved. However, it accepted the four other demands put forward by Patel, who did not attend the talks.
Congress agreed to the demand for formation of a special investigation team (SIT), if voted to power, to investigate alleged atrocities against the members of the community during the PAAS rally in Ahmedabad on August 25-26, 2015, senior Congress leader Siddharth Patel said after. He said legal action will be taken against those held guilty.
It also promised withdrawal of all police cases against Hardik's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) members, including on the serious charge of sedition. If voted to power, the Congress government will make an ex-gratia payment of Rs 35 lakh to the kin of those killed during the quota agitation and a government job to one member of their families, Patel said.
The Congress will form a commission for general category communities and provide it with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crore for education, skill development and self-employment, he said.
The reservation issue, however, can prove a major hurdle in Hardik Patel extending support to the Congress as Alpesh Thakor, who heads the Kshatriya Thakor Sena, has been opposed to reservation to the Patels within the quota meant for the backward classes.
In fact, Thakor had launched an agitation to counter the one led by Hardik Patel for reservation for his community.