On hearing about the sudden demise of Jayantibhai Manani, I was rendered voiceless. Devendranath Patel and I remained in my cabin for hours, remembering the great qualities he espoused and putting off the difficult task that awaited us – of informing his wellwishers that he was no more.
The beginning of a formidable association
Personally, I lost one of my dearest friends and my ideological guide. I first met him in a function organized by BAMCEF in Gujarat in the 1990s. BAMCEF had become active among the SC/STs, OBCs and Minorities. Those days, the Mandal Commission was the hot topic.
Gujarat had already observed three major anti-reservation agitations – in 1981, 1985 and 1990. I joined BAMCEF in 1994. Five OBCs, drawn to the philosophy and ideology of Phule, Shahu and Ambedkar were at the forefront of the organization: Karnabhai Maldhari, Vershibhai Gadhavi, Jayantibhai Manani, Vipul Jadav and I.
We used to attend almost all the meetings of BAMCEF. One or two members were always invited to deliver lectures in such events. We tried to cultivate the ability to analyze the contemporary problems in keeping with the Phule-Ambedkar ideology. We learnt a lot from these activities and decided to make it the mission of our lives.
The movement has come a long way since. We have remained loyal to the cause, even though we have experimented by joining hands with other social and political organizations. We share good relations with all organizations working against the Manuwadi ideology. Thus, we can claim that we are the main pillars of Phule-Ambedkar ideology in Gujarat among the OBCs and have tried our best to unite SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. Also, there have been efforts to raise ‘class-based consciousness’ in Gujarat. By writing, holding lectures and organizing interactions we have been able to further the noble cause of social cohesion. If I were to rank the five aforementioned activists for their work among the masses, I would give the No 1 spot to Jayantibhai.
The man behind the activist
Starting at a very young age, he would leave his family and business behind and travel from one place to another in order to awaken, unite and encourage the people. He took a liking to activism in his college days. Initially, he was drawn to political activism but soon realized that social activism was much more necessary. He thus invested this time in social activism but still engaged with politics during election time. He kept a keen eye on the elections, right from the gram panchayat election to the parliamentary election.
He went on to complete his MA in Political Science. He then got a BEd degree. He used to take his reading material with him on his travels. He also enjoyed writing for Kahani, a weekly magazine run by Verhsibhai Gadhavi. Often, all the four tabloid-size pages of Kahani would end up being written solely by Jayantibhai, as hardly anybody else could match his writing skills. His ideological explanations and data-based articles were exhaustive. He used to tell me, “Arjunbhai, please write in between, so that I can get some free time.” He invested a lot of time and energy in running Kahani and it was not in vain. Many activists have been inspired by reading Kahani. After 20 years in print, the Kahani magazine was discontinued. Then, Jayantibhai started writing in Facebook. He used to carry his laptop everywhere he went. His daughter helped him write his posts in Hindi. He made a point to read all the messages and reply to all those who read his posts. He was quick to thank them personally and if needed, debate vigorously.
Through social media, he came into contact with many Mulnivasis across India. He put together a cadre of people from across the country. He wrote in Facebook daily, for he had realized the power of the medium. Though he didn’t belong to the Facebook generation, he kept abreast of technological developments and remained progressively modern in his thought process.
He was a full-time activist, always on the move, meeting people from across the political spectrum – BJP, RSS, Congress, BSP and so on. He did not hesitate to interact with BJP leaders. When he used to visit my place, he invariably met Khimajibhai, who belonged to Swaminarayan sect. Khimajbhai’s wife was a corporator in the Surat municipality. They would effortlessly get into a conversation. He was magnanimous, and while he made it a point to share his thoughts, he wanted to understand other points of view, too. He was a great listener and patient with those who had opposite views. He always kept a low profile. One could say that he was the “full-time pracharak” of anti-brahmanical ideology. He was truly an asset to the downtrodden.
He mainly worked with the OBCs and Tribals. BAMCEF stayed away from these communities for a variety of reasons. But Jayantibhai was trying to catalyze a social transformation, which would be incomplete without the two groups. It is a difficult task to work with the OBCs because they are very much under the influence of the brahmanical ideology.
A friend and guide
Whenever he came to Surat, he made a habit of visiting me at the Centre for Social Studies, where I am on the faculty. We used to analyze the current situation for hours on end and benefit from each other’s knowledge. I learned a lot from him, both in terms of grass-roots knowledge and theory.
I would often remark that he had a good understanding of philosophy. He developed his own methodology of working with the SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. He could talk as easily with an ordinary person as with a highly educated one. Many people are unable to make such adjustments but it came naturally to him. Whenever I had to take part in TV debates or was working on a book or an article for a journal, I used to discuss the topic with him over the phone. He was always available, even at odd hours. He was never too busy for an engaging conversation.
Whenever he visited my house, he used to mix with my family as one of our own. He was not demanding at all. He lived on simple food like sabzi, roti, buttermilk, khichdi, jaggery, etc. He was fond of pan masala and tobacco, akin to an ordinary man on the streets of Gujarat.
I lost a truly great friend. He lived with a sense of purpose and for a noble cause. He did his best to improve the lot of the sections of society victimized by the Manuwadi system. Now, it is the duty of those of us nourished by him to take his legacy forward – to keep the flame of revolution alive and rebuild India based on the Constitutional ideals.
Copy-editing: Zeeshan Ali
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