Ahmedabad: Alleging that the number of cases of atrocities against Dalits has risen sharply since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani on Friday challenged Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to come out with a public statement pledging their alliance to the Constitution of India and their commitment to protecting the lives of Dalits.

Addressing the media at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, Mevani said he and other youth leaders representing different people’s movements in the country will hold a rally in the national capital on Tuesday to demand that the ruling BJP and the Prime Minister clarify their stand on Dalits. “We will lead a delegation to the Prime Minister’s office after the rally carrying copies of the Constitution of India and the Manusmriti, and ask Modi which of the two documents he owes allegiance to—the Manusmriti or the Constitution,” Mevani said.

Calling the Maharashtra government’s move to file a case against him for making a “provocative” speech in Pune on 31 December “childish,” Mevani, a lawyer turned social activist, questioned whether Dalits did not have the right to protest against injustice done to them. “Not a single word in my speech was provocative. Being a lawyer and a lawmaker, I strictly abide by the provisions of the Constitution,” he said.

The Dalit rights activist said he neither visited the venue at Bhima-Koregaon where violence on 1 January left one person dead nor made any inflammatory or provocative speech, nor did he participate in the bandh that was called to protest the attack on the Dalit rally.

“If Dalits want to fight against exploitation, they will have to take to the streets. But how can the common man dare to speak up if an MLA (member of the legislative assembly) from Dalit society is targeted?” Mevani said. “In cases of violence against Dalits, there has been no action. Modi ji should clear his stand. Why is he maintaining silence?”

Mevani said members of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP made a childish attempt to tarnish his image and target him as a fallout of the results of the Gujarat assembly elections and because they have a sense of fear about 2019, when the next Lok Sabha elections will be held.

Warning that the Maharashtra government’s decision to file a case against him may anger Dalits and lead to more violence, he appealed to the community to maintain peace.