Ahmedabad: Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani on Monday announced to contest the Gujarat polls from the Vadagam (SC) seat in Banaskantha district as an Independent candidate with the indirect support of the Congress.

Mevani, the face of last year’s Dalit agitation in Gujarat, also received the backing of the Aam Aaadmi Party (AAP). He declared his candidature as sitting MLA Manibhai Vaghela said the state unit of the Congress had asked him not to enter the fray “as a part of an agreement" with the Dalit activist.

Vaghela said the Congress had given its indirect support to Mevani for the Vadgam seat, reserved for scheduled caste (SC) candidates. “The party has asked me not to contest from the Vadgam seat this time. Though Mevani will contest the poll as an Independent, he will have the Congress support. Thus, there won’t be any Congress candidate on this seat," Vaghela told PTI.

Mevani has been a vehement critic of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state. He shot to fame when he led a massive protest against the Una Dalit flogging incident last year.

Later in the day, the Aam Admi Party said it will not field any candidate against Mevani. “The AAP has decided not to field any candidate from Vadgam from where Dalit protest leader Jignesh Mevani is contesting as an Independent candidate. Looking at the appeal made by him, the party believes that the contest should be between the BJP and Jignesh Mevani," the party said in a statement.

Delhi chief minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal extended best wishes to the 37-year-old Mevani through Twitter. Mevani also took to the micro-blogging site to announce his candidature. He wrote, “Friends, I’m contesting from Vadgam-11 seat of Banaskantha district of Gujarat as an independent candidate. We shall fight, we shall win.

“All political parties opposed to the BJP are saying that Jignesh Mevani is a symbol of struggle against the ruling BJP, and they believe the contest should be between these two people only. We have appealed to all political parties to support me," Mevani told reporters.

The AAP has announced candidates for over 30 seats in Gujarat so far. The Delhi-headquartered party has maintained its contest is with the ruling BJP. In a message posted on social media, Mevani claimed that he decided to jump into the poll fray after being “persuaded" by youths and numerous agitators. He even requested other opposition parties as well as aspiring independents not to file their papers.

“As the ruling BJP is our key enemy, I request the aspiring candidates of other parties and independents not to file papers so that we can have a direct battle with the BJP. This is people’s battle against dictatorship and we will continue our fight after winning this election," he said.

Mevani will be in a direct contest with BJP’s Vijay Chakravarthi. Earlier this month, Mevani had a meeting with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during the latter’s visit to south Gujarat. After the meeting, Mevani had said that the opposition party assured him that more than 90% of his demands would be incorporated in its manifesto.

Stopping short of declaring open support to the Congress after the meeting, Mevani had said that he would ask his community members to defeat the BJP in the Gujarat polls. The Dalit leader maintained that he had no plans to join any political party.

Of the three young caste leaders, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor has already joined the Congress, while Patidar leader Hardik Patel recently announced his decision to back the opposition party after accepting its proposed reservation formula. The 182-member Gujarat Assembly will go to the polls in two phases—on 9 and 14 December. The counting of votes will be taken up on 18 December.

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