Ahmedabad: The newly elected independent Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani is fast emerging as the Dalit youth icon in national politics.

The 34-year-old journalist-lawyer-activist Jignesh, who contested and won the Vadgam assembly seat with all non-BJP parties deciding not to field their candidate against him, addressed a congregation of social activists  at Chikkamagaluru organized by the Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike yesterday.

Sharing the podium with human rights activist Teesta Setalwad, Jignesh called for forging an alliance of Dalits, Muslims, OBCs and all non-communal forces to defeat the Fascist BJP.

Announcing his decision to campaign against the BJP in the forthcoming assembly elections in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Jignesh mooted the idea of fielding 10 to 15 ‘consensus’ candidates representing various social activist groups of Karnataka with the support of non-BJP political parties, taking a cue from his case.

After Chikkamagalur, Jignesh is scheduled to attend the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon, where the Marathas led by Peshwa Bajirao II clashed with the British East India Company. Many Dalit communities see the battle as being the first step in their struggle against caste-based oppression because the local Mahar community fought alongside the British against the Marathas.

Thousands of Dalit men and women visit the site of the battle, on the banks of the Bhima river on 1 January every year.

This year, the Dalit congregation assumes political significance because of the presence of Jignesh and the mother of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student of Hyderabad central university who was forced to commit suicide by the upper caste dominated administration.  

On 1 January, an umbrella coalition of people from Dalit, lower caste and minority communities will be formally launched to take on the ‘new Peshwas’ - Hindutva forces like RSS and BJP.

Among the speakers expected to be present on the occasion are JNU student activist Umer Khalid, BR Ambedkar's grandson Prakash, Jignesh Mevani and social activist Soni Sori from Chhattisgarh.

The venue for the launch of the coalition is Shaniwar Wada chosen because it represented the seat of the Peshwa empire. The coalition would serve as a forum for speaking against cow vigilantism, khap panchayats and persecution of liberals by saffron forces.