A nervous Gujarat government does not want to take any chances while Narendra Modi is visiting the state to celebrate his birthday.
In a dramatic turn of events, Una Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani was first detained by the Gujarat police on the evening of 16 September, then released after midnight and then put under house arrest.
Soon after his release, he was put under house arrest until this morning. Initially, the police said he will not be let off until Modi leaves the state this evening, but later changed its mind. He was allowed to go to the nearby Dholka city for a gathering on the condition that the police would constantly accompany him. Mevani confirmed to Dalit Camera, a media group which reports on Dalit matters, that he and his team were on his way to Dholka, a taluka in Ahmedabad district, where Dalits were allotted land in 2006 but were yet to receive possession. Later, he wrote on Facebook: “I am technically released but still under house arrest kind of surveillance as a team of Ahmadabad crime branch is constantly with me.”
Modi is in Gujarat to celebrate his 66th birthday on Saturday and plans to shuttle between Ahmedabad and adivasi-dominated Dahod where he will inaugurate an irrigation project and address a rally.
Mevani, who spearheaded the Dalit agitation triggered by the Una flogging incident was picked up by the police minutes after he landed at the Ahmedabad airport. He was returning from Delhi where he launched the Dalit Swabhiman Sangharsh rally in which more than 100 Dalit organisations and political parties participated. The rally which was held in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar marks the beginning of a pan-Indian Dalit movement against the Modi government that Mevani had announced a few days ago.
Launching the rally, Mevani had given the call for a ‘rail-roko’ agitation if the Gujarat government did not comply with their demand of distributing 5 acres of land to every Dalit family. Allocation of land was one of the key demands that emerged during the month-long Dalit agitation in the state.
On 14 September, Mevani, in a Facebook post, said that he had a dream where he saw tables were flung on Modi’s dias, raising speculations that Dalits may protest during Modi’s public meeting at Dahod. His detention, and subsequent house arrest, therefore, is said to be one of the preventive measures.
“He was released at around 3 a.m today after police took a statement from him. We still do not know the contents of the statement. The police has asked him to switch off both his phones and is presently guarding him,” Nirjhari Sinha, one of the organisers of the Dalit agitation, told The Wire.
Meanwhile, 400 members of the Patidar community, which had its own movement for reservation last year, were also detained by the police. The state government has not been able to successfully manage the agitations of both groups. The Patidars showed their clout by disrupting a rally in Surat by the BJP president Amit Shah (who is a former home minister of the state) and chief minister Vijay Rupani. Both the leaders were forced to cut short their speeches following the ruckus.
In yet another development that may trigger another round of protest, Gau Rakshaks beat a 29-year-old Muslim youth, Mohammad Ayub, to death yesterday. “Following Ayub’s death, Ahmedabad has been tense. His post-mortem is underway at the city’s V.S. Hospital,” said Sinha.
Police have detained two Ahmedabad-based activists, Shamsad Pathan and Asim Sheikh, for raising their voice against the killing.
The Una Dalit Atyachar Samiti, a platform crystallised during the Dalit agitation, has received great support from the Muslim community of the state. In this backdrop, Ayub’s death could spark another round of combined protests by Dalits and Muslims, causing further trouble for the already-nervous state government that has been trying hard to get a grip of the situation.
A combination of such incidents, just ahead of the prime minister’s visit, may be the reason for such caution and alacrity shown by the police.
Note: In an earlier version of this story, the term ‘house arrest’ was used to describe Jignesh Mewani’s initial condition. Though he has since been released and describes his situation as de facto house arrest since he is under constant police supervision, the headline has been edited to use the more accurate term ‘police vigil’