The BJP and the media are so focused on Rahul Gandhi that they have failed to spot a bigger danger lurking ahead of Narendra Modi in 2019: the rise of a trio of young, politically savvy regional leaders who are driving the opposition charge in the politically crucial states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with innovation and skill that master strategist Amit Shah would surely envy.
The just concluded by-elections mark the emergence of Akhilesh Yadav, Jayant Chaudhary, and Tejashwi Yadav as leaders in their own right. Dynasts though they are, they come without the baggage of their fathers and have flummoxed the BJP by changing the dynamics of politics in the Hindi heartland with an opposition alliance that no one ever thought would materialise.
Youth power is a formidable force in a polity dominated by young voters. In Gujarat, another trio of youngsters — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani — gave Modi and Shah sleepless nights as they powered Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in the 2017 Assembly elections. They would have snatched Modi’s home state from under his nose but for a last-minute high-voltage emotive campaign by the prime minister which saved the day for the BJP.
An eerily similar story is playing out in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Akhilesh is now firmly in charge of the Samajwadi Party, Jayant Chaudhry has taken over the reins of the Rashtriya Lok Dal from father Ajit Singh, and Tejashwi has stepped ably into the shoes of his charismatic father Lalu Prasad Yadav to lead the Rashtriya Janata Dal from the front. Together, they form a daunting team that has scripted the story of the opposition’s revival in the Hindi heartland.
The credit for taking the first step to unify the opposition in Uttar Pradesh must go to Akhilesh. In the 14 months since his party was decimated by a saffron wave in the Assembly polls, he has come into his own. Displaying an unexpected degree of maturity, Akhilesh spent months concentrating on two things: one to systematically rebuild his shattered party by patching up with father Mulayam Singh and uncle Shivpal Yadav; the other to reach out to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and persuade her to consider a poll pact with him.
The restoration of equilibrium in the family was on display at a dinner hosted by Akhilesh’s other uncle Ram Gopal Yadav in Delhi towards the fag end of the budget session. A person present at the dinner said it was evident from the body language between father and son that Mulayam has finally come to terms with his exit and accepted his son’s takeover of the party.
Akhilesh’s biggest feat, however, is to have built bridges with Mayawati. This is no mean achievement. Mayawati is a notoriously touch-me-not leader who hates lending her voter base to other parties in a pre-poll alliance. Despite her reputation, Akhilesh reached out to her before the Lok Sabha bypolls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur earlier this year and requested for her support.
Those familiar with the discussions between the two parties talk of Akhilesh’s pragmatic approach. Not only did he show a remarkable degree of patience with the imperious BSP chief, he is also believed to have sweetened his proposal with an indication that he would support her national ambitions should an opposition coalition win in 2019. With time on his side, Akhilesh is clear in his mind that he wants to focus his energy on the 2022 Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, rather than jockey for a position at the Centre.
The same pragmatism drives Jayant. The story behind the opposition pact for the Kairana bypoll provides an interesting insight into the way these young minds are working as they seek to dislodge the BJP. Setting aside their egos and petty personal ambitions that marked the politics of their fathers, Akhilesh and Jayant sealed an agreement that took the BJP by surprise.
They decided that RLD would contest the seat to wean away the numerically strong Jat community from the BJP. Jayant scoured the constituency for a suitable candidate and came up with Tabassum Hasan who belongs to a politically influential family of the area. He didn’t allow a small issue like her Samajwadi Party membership to cloud his thinking. And Akhilesh did not let ego get in the way. He readily loaned Tabassum to Jayant and much to everyone’s shock, she won with a handsome margin.
It was a brave decision to field a Muslim woman from a constituency in a communally polarised region still licking its wounds from the violence in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. But Jayant and Akhilesh seem to revel in making bold gestures to catch their rivals off guard.
Jayant, in particular, showed a remarkable grasp of the ground level politics in his choice of a Muslim candidate. It was the only way to revive his grandfather Charan Singh’s winning Jat-Muslim alliance and restore the age-old symbiotic relationship between these two communities. This was the plank on which he campaigned as he went door-to-door in Jat villages, appealing to their good sense, pride and disillusionment with the BJP. Such is Jayant’s hold now that he actually persuaded his father Ajit to leave the comfort of his airconditioned house and accompany him on his padyatra through the Jatland.
The BJP has clearly underestimated the abilities of these three youthful leaders. Yes, they are dynasts but they seem to be made of sterner stuff than effete scions born with silver spoons in their mouths. All three have shown themselves to be pavement thumpers and very focused about their politics. They are social media savvy and ready to take Modi head-on, at times using Shah’s own aggressive tactics on the BJP.
Interestingly, they have established a good rapport with Rahul Gandhi. The Congress president has taken Tejashwi out for dinner when the RJD leader has been in Delhi. And Jayant and Rahul move in the same social circles. All four talk to each other frequently on the phone as well.
They have tasted blood now, having defeated the BJP in successive bypolls in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar this year. Expect to see more of this youth power in action in the run-up to 2019.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2018 15:13 PM