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Popular youth leader of Dalits to be supported by the Congress party; move to help the Congress earn support of Dalit community in poll-bound Gujarat

Taking a plunge into the grisly world of electoral politics, popular Dalit leader and convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), Jignesh Mevani, announced on Monday that he will contest the upcoming Gujarat assembly polls from the Vadgam constituency in the state’s Banaskantha district as an independent candidate.

In an early gain for his political debut, the Dalit leader who has been leading his community’s charge against the ruling BJP and campaigning to “overthrow the anti-poor” saffron party at the hustings, has received an endorsement for his election bid from the Congress party as well as Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party.

The Congress has officially declared support for Mevani’s electoral bid and decided not to field its sitting legislator from the seat – Manibhai Vaghela – for re-election from Vadgam. The AAP also responded favourably to Mevani’s appeal to non-BJP political parties for not fielding any candidate from the constituency to ensure a “direct fight” between him and the state’s ruling party.

Mevani, who had until now kept his cards close to his chest while making it clear that he wouldn’t officially join any political party, announced his decision to contest the polls as an independent candidate through his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The Dalit leader along with Patidar Andolan leader Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore, a popular face of the state’s OBC community, were a trio that the Congress was aggressively trying to woo in the run-up to the Gujarat assembly polls which are due in two phases next month – on December 9 and 14.

While Alpesh Thakore had officially joined the Congress and is now the party’s candidate from the Radhanpur constituency, Hardik too had declared his support for the party after his demand to ensure that the state’s nearly 15 per cent Patel/Patidar community would be given benefits of a to-be-carved reservation in government jobs and education institutes was accepted by the party. With Alpesh Thakore and Hardik Patel both on the Congress’ side, the Grand Old Party was hoping that Jignesh Mevani too would agree to endorse its campaign in the state where the BJP has been in power for the past 22 years.

Sources said that during interactions between Mevani and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading his party’s charge against the BJP in Gujarat, it had been decided that the Grand Old Party would back the Dalit leader from whichever constituency he wished to enter the election fray in return for him endorsing the party’s poll pitch.

On Monday morning, Mevani finally announced his decision.

Sitting Congress MLA from Vadgam, Manibhai Vaghela, confirmed that he had been informed of an agreement between Jignesh Mevani and his party.

News agency PTI quoted Manibhai Vaghela as saying: “The (Congress) party has asked me not to contest from the Vadgam seat this time. Though Mevani will contest the polls as an Independent, he will have Congress’ support. Thus, there won’t be any Congress candidate on this seat.”

The Vadgam constituency – reserved for a scheduled caste candidate – falls in the electoral pocketborough of former Gujarat chief minister Shankarsinh Vaghela, who had recently quit the Congress and decided to field candidates as part of a third front.

Soon after he announced his decision to contest as an independent, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal tweeted his best wishes for Mevani while his party issued a statement saying that it won’t field any candidate from the Vadgam seat.

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