Mystery shrouds the death of OBC leader Jayantibhai Manani

The sudden death of the activist who was devoted to the cause of the OBCs has left his colleagues dumbfounded. They say he never had any heart-related ailments. Prema Negi reports

Gujarat’s well-known social activist Jayantibhai Manani died on a train on 24 August 2018. The reason for his death is still unclear. Some of his associates say he died of a heart attack while others regard his death suspicious. His family, however, is treating it as a natural death. He was cremated in Rajkot on 25 August 2018.

Jayantibhai’s daughter told FORWARD Press that they had no suspicions. But still, they had the postmortem done at a hospital near Wankaner railway station, in Gujarat’s Rajkot division. The police say that the report would be available within a week. Samples have been sent for forensic examination. It would be difficult to pinpoint the reason that led to his death till the reports are available.

Jayantibhai Manani was travelling to Bharuch from Rajkot by train on 24 August. He died at around 8 am. His wife Kanchanben was also travelling with him, which could be a reason why the family isn’t treating the death as suspicious.

Jayantibhai Manani with fellow social workers

Manani was known for his tough, uncompromising stand against right-wing politics and his associates are unwilling to believe that his was a natural death. Citing the murders of Dabholkar, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, they say that Manani may have been done to death at the behest of the people in power. Manani was not suffering from any heart-related ailment. He had gone to sleep after a bout of vomiting but never woke up.

He leaves behind his wife, two sons and a daughter. The sons manage his family business while the daughter is a computer engineer.

Manani was actively working for securing the rights of the OBCs ever since the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1990. He nurtured a crop of young OBC social workers, who have been spreading awareness about the doubled-faced politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. Manani did not confine himself to the OBCs. His concerns extended to the entire Bahujan community.

Ajitbhai Thakur, who is associated with the OBC movement and was very close to Manani, said that it was impossible for him to believe that Manani was no more. “I had met him a few days ago and we kept in touch over the phone. In the 66 years of my life, I’ve never cried when someone died but his death had shaken me so much that I cannot control my tears. For us, he was an ideal, a beacon and a messiah like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jotiba Phule and Kanshi Ram. It was he who inspired us to join the battle for protecting the Constitution, the OBCs and the Dalits. To tell you the truth, it was his inspiration that made me quit the BJP after 15 years with the party. I realized in his company that we couldn’t fight for our community while remaining in parties like the BJP and the Congress. These parties are meant for the savarnas and the upper classes. Almost 80-90 per cent of the population of this country are OBCs, SCs, STs and minorities but it is they who are the most suppressed and oppressed and no one is ready to listen to them.”

Thakur says that for now, his death is being ascribed to a heart attack but there is no doubt that he was on the radar of the right-wingers. “The fatal heart attack came as a surprise because he never ever talked about about suffering from a heart-related ailment,” he said.

Manani was working dedicatedly for uniting society and making the people aware of their rights. He used to say that the Constitution has conferred on us the right to vote and that we can unseat our rulers by exercising that right.

Manani devoted his entire life to society. He was also a journalist and was sincerely fulfilling his duty as the fourth pillar of democracy. He had published around 15 books on the OBC movement. Of late, he was immersed in preparing the final draft of a book in Hindi on the movement. He had been writing consistently for the OBC weekly Kahani for the past 18 years. His was a voice of the oppressed. He had also written a book on the RSS titled RSS: Rashtravadi Ya Jativadi, in which he had dissected the brahmanical character of the Sarsanghachalak of the organization.

Jayantibhai and his wife Kanchanben

He was associated with the OBC Samarthan Samiti, OSS (OBC SC ST) and other organizations and was raising the demand that the three communities, which form 85-90 per cent of the population of India, should have a share in State power. He favoured free education so that the children did not become part of the system by giving and accepting bribes, so that they loved their profession and gave their 100 per cent.

Manani died on a day that happened to be the birth anniversary of B.P. Mandal and of Gujarat’s well-known poet Narmad, after whom the South Gujarat University is named and who, like Manani, awakened the Bahujans through his poetry.

Devendranath Patel, a longtime associate of Manani and organizational secretary of the OBC Samarthan Samiti, says that Manani showed the way ahead for the younger generation of Gujarat. “He was our friend, philosopher and guide. It was mainly due to him that the OBCs in the state became politically aware. He had been working for creating social awareness for the past three decades. This was the time we needed him the most and his departure at this juncture is a big shock. He was always thinking about the progress and the wellbeing of the OBCs and working for their welfare. He was a born journalist and was performing his journalistic duties diligently.”

His wife Kanchanben played the role in his life that Savitribai played in Jotiba’s life. His death has come as big jolt for the movement of the Backwards in Gujarat. An active social worker has departed suddenly, leaving behind a vacuum.

Manani was of the view that the political parties should pick their candidates for the assembly and parliamentary elections in keeping with the share of the OBCs in the total population and he made the people realize the value of their vote.

Manani was a voracious reader and always carried a book with him on all his journeys. He always kept reading up new things. Bahujan MLA Chhotubhai Vasava was one of the many leaders who supported his campaign for generating awareness among the OBCs. Sandeep Singh, a journalist who knew Manani very well, says, “This is a sad and unfortunate development. No one can say with any degree of certainty whether it is a natural death or he has been eliminated as part of a conspiracy.”  Manani was a strong voice for social justice. “He was a bitter critic of the RSS/BJP and always stood against the oppression and exploitation of the vulnerable by the establishment. Naturally, he was a thorn in the flesh for those in power,” he says.

Sandeep Singh says there are enough reasons to doubt the cause of his death. For one, he not have any health issues. When he left his home he was fine and his wife was accompanying him. A couple of hours into the journey, he began feeling uneasy and started vomiting. After the vomiting ceased, he lay on his berth and went to sleep. When his wife tried to wake him up after some time, she discovered that he was no more.

Those struggling against the system want to know whether he died a natural death or he was murdered. Once the postmortem and the forensic test reports are in, we can hope to find the answer.

Translation: Amrish; copy-editing: Anil


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

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Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

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The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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