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Can Jignesh Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar bring some change in Congress?

The entry of the two activist-turned politicians from Gujarat and Bihar will certainly be good optics for the Congress given that many young leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and Sushmita Dev have deserted the party in the past couple of years.

September 27, 2021 / 02:42 PM IST
Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mevani at an anti-BJP rally in Patna in 2018 (File image: PTI)

Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mevani at an anti-BJP rally in Patna in 2018 (File image: PTI)

Jignesh Mevani, an independent Gujarat MLA and an influential Dalit leader, is all set to join the Congress, along with former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.

The induction of the two young activists-turned-politicians will take place on September 28, the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, in Delhi, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, at a time when many young leaders have deserted the grand old party in recent months.

The significance

Mevani, 38, rose to national prominence during the 2016 protests following the flogging incident in which seven Dalit youths were tortured in Una, Gujarat, by members of a cow protection group.

READ: Resignation spree continues in Congress: Here is a list of leaders who quit the party in recent months

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Mevani then appeared, along with Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore, as the young leaders challenging the BJP dominance in Gujarat during the 2017 Assembly elections. Thakore later joined the BJP and Hardik Patel is the working president of the Gujarat Congress.

Mevani won the Vadgam (reserved) assembly constituency in the Banaskantha district of Gujarat in 2017 with the backing of Congress.

Kanhaiya Kumar, 34, shot to prominence as a firebrand JNU student union president with his speeches against the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in 2015-16. He contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Begusarai on a Communist Party of India (CPI) ticket but lost to the BJP’s Giriraj Singh.

Mevani had campaigned for Kumar in the 2019 general elections.

Also, read: Know Your Leader | Kanhaiya Kumar: Village boy, brilliant student, charged with sedition and now contesting Lok Sabha polls

Kumar had sparked speculations of his political switch, following his meeting with former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on September 16.

What makes both Mevani and Kumar an apt fit for the Congress is that they have been vociferous opponents of the BJP and its leadership, and, more importantly, can breathe life into the Congress in the Hindi heartland, political commentator Amitabh Tiwari wrote in an opinion piece in Moneycontrol last week.

Young faces

The entry of the two fiery speakers, from Gujarat and Bihar, will certainly be good optics for the Congress, given that many young leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada and Sushmita Dev have quit the party in the past couple of years.

“We welcome all the revolutionary youths who are willing to work for the development of the country and strengthen the Congress party and the ideals of (Mahatma) Gandhi, Sardar (Patel) and (Jawaharlal) Nehru,” said Hardik Patel, who is also expected to be present at the function in Delhi.

Patel described Mevani as “an old friend” and said his entry will help the party, both at the state and at the national level, according to a PTI report.

The joining of the two in the grand old party amidst the speculation around poll strategist Prashant Kishor indicate that the party is planning to build a new team ahead of the 2024 general elections, according to reports.

State-specific goals

National goals apart, the Congress has state-specific goals in mind as well, reports said.

In Gujarat, the ruling BJP recently reshuffled its government, including ministers, appointing Bhupendra Patel, a patidar, as the new chief minister, replacing Vijay Rupani.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also making inroads into the state with its success in the Surat municipal polls in February this year. The Congress, it seems, is clearly trying to woo OBCs and Dalits in Gujarat by inducting Mevani.  In what may be called a close fight, the BJP had won 99 seats while the Congress bagged 77 seats in the 182-member assembly in the 2017 state elections.

Also, read: By naming Bhupendra Patel as Gujarat CM, BJP is trying to kill many birds with one stone

Mevani’s induction, days after the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi as the first Dalit chief minister of Punjab, will help the party to reach out to the community in Gujarat and beyond, according to a leader who did not want to be named.

Kumar’s entry will help the Congress in Bihar, where it has been in the political wilderness for long. A report in Indian Express said that the party has delayed the appointment of the new Bihar president, awaiting Kumar’s entry.

The Congress, which has not been in power in Bihar since 1990, has witnessed its electoral share rapidly decline in the state. In the last assembly polls, the party ended up winning only 19 legislative seats, down from its previous tally of 27.
Gulam Jeelani is a journalist with over 11 years of reporting experience. Based in New Delhi, he covers politics and governance for Moneycontrol.

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