Tuesday, 17 May, 2022
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How Kanhaiya, Umar, Hardik, Jignesh, Shehla and Chandrashekhar Azad can still find their way

Clueless and lost after the 2019 elections, the self-made youth leaders need a next-level plan.

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The vacuum in opposition leadership over the last five years threw up some self-made youth leaders outside of the existing political parties. These included Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Shehla Rashid, Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Chandrashekhar Azad. They seem to have faded away from national politics after the 2019 elections, if not much earlier. Where did these young leaders go wrong? Given that the vacuum in opposition leadership has only grown, why aren’t they making an impact?

Of all of them, the one who created the most impact, appeared to be the most promising was Kanhaiya Kumar. Given the high bar of expectations he set, he has also proven to be the most disappointing.

Wasted opportunity

Kanhaiya Kumar’s brief achievement was stunning. Here was a Leftist student union leader at the Jawaharlal Nehru University jailed by a Right-wing government on accusations of being anti-national. The boyish Bihari comes out of jail and gives a memorable speech that turns the ‘anti-national’ charge on its head. If only the opposition had one such orator, Indian politics would have been very different today.

Kanhaiya rises to instant fame and becomes the toast of the Left-liberal space. He’s on every channel, every media conclave, every big event, debating with the BJP spokespersons and supporters, often shutting them up.

He wanted to win from his home town Begusarai, once a bastion of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

Having lost Begusarai, Kanhaiya has now disappeared, working at the grassroots. He’s said to be promoting the CPI in Bihar and Bengal. He’s given up on immediate electoral politics. He won’t leave an anachronistic party because it’s family, and he can’t lead it to revival either. What a waste.

The problem was not that Kanhaiya was too ambitious for his age, wanting to win a Lok Sabha seat against candidates of two established parties. The problem was that he wasn’t ambitious enough. He still isn’t.

After a man rises to national political fame, all he wants is a Lok Sabha seat? There are so many Lok Sabha MPs that most of them won’t even be recognised by people on the streets, sometimes even in their own constituencies.


Also read: Why Kanhaiya Kumar is a symbol of status quo in Begusarai, the Leningrad of Bihar


Thinking at scale

Kanhaiya Kumar could have aimed for something much bigger after 2016. He could have started a national movement, taking the entire opposition space. He could have joined a mainstream party, even created his own party, or theoretically, even infused new life into the CPI. He could have done an Arvind Kejriwal. If not national politics, he could have aimed for Bihar politics, which is in pressing need of a leader to out-match Nitish Kumar. But what does the Azadi boy want? Just a Lok Sabha seat.

Instead of putting his new-found fame and his outstanding oratory skills to good political use, Kanhaiya allowed himself to become a toy in the hands of TV, Bollywood and socialite Leftists. Even now, he often goes to Mumbai to hang out with his celebrity friends. In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Rashtriya Janata Dal leaders found Kanhaiya arrogant, an RJD leader had told me.

Instant celebrityhood at a young age is difficult to handle. Most will struggle to keep their heads on their shoulders.

Instead of wasting his time with Bollywood and the CPI, it would be better for Kanhaiya Kumar to enter the Bigg Boss house. Alternatively, he can still use his fame and oratory to lead agitations and build a structured campaign around them. If he does so, he could succeed in changing the political discourse of the country. But to think this way, you need to be ambitious. Kanhaiya would think this way only if he dreamt of becoming the chief minister of Bihar, or the prime minister of India. Alas, all he wants is to be one of the 545 Lok Sabha MPs.

Begging the Congress

The lack of ambition, and therefore the inability to think at scale afflict the other young leaders too. Jignesh Mevani shot to national fame with the Una movement in Gujarat. He could have transformed himself into the face of the angry educated Dalit youth, avenging the death of Rohith Vemula.

In the 2017 Gujarat elections, a weak Congress wanted its campaign to stand on the shoulders of Hardik, Jignesh and Alpesh Thakor. So, it agreed to Jignesh’s blackmail, and vacated a Congress stronghold seat to let him win as an Independent. Emboldened by this, Jignesh wanted the Congress to gift him a Lok Sabha seat. He camped in Delhi for months to beg for one. But what would the Congress get by gifting a ticket to an independent activist who refuses to join the party?

The Congress could have been blackmailed again, if Jignesh mattered nationally, the way he did in Gujarat. Once again, he was unable to put up any agitational campaign and just glided from one event to another, and was frequently seen on Delhi-Ahmedabad flights.


Also read: Dear media, stop Chandrashekhar Azad vs Mayawati tales. Dalits can have more than one leader


Missing: a strategy

Similarly, Umar Khalid as a Leftist, who happens to be Muslim, could have become a voice of Muslims demanding constitutional rights, a secular Owaisi, so to speak. Or, he could have become a youth leader raising issues of the youth to assert that he is more than just his Muslim name. Either strategy would have needed a strategy in the first place. It would have needed planning, scale, movement, agitation, campaign, crowdfunding… and ambition.

Shehla Rashid must be the most unambiguous Kashmiri youth leader. Instead of burnishing her credentials as a leader of the people by getting jailed like other Kashmiri politicians, she has chosen to ‘quit’ electoral politics. Leaving Khan Market for Kashmir is an event she has to announce on Twitter.

Hardik Patel has joined the Congress and now that Patel caste politics has fizzled out, he doesn’t know what to do. If he could use his skills for agitational campaigning and become the voice of ‘rurban’ Gujarati youth, he could project himself as a CM face. But he’s now in Congress, so he’ll start campaigning only two weeks before the elections, in keeping with the Congress culture.

Chandrashekhar Azad of the Bhim Army gave in to the Congress culture without even joining the Congress. The Congress asked him to not spoil the party’s chances in Saharanpur in the Lok Sabha elections and he agreed. A Dalit youth leader imprisoned by a BJP government under the draconian National Security Act could have used political victimhood to create a mass support base for himself across Uttar Pradesh. Instead, Chandrashekar Azaad made himself irrelevant even on his home turf of Saharanpur.

Given that our mainstream opposition parties are showing no sign of life, the vacuum in opposition is likely to be get more pronounced in the next five years. There hasn’t been a better time for new leaders to emerge since the chaos of the early 1990s.

Hardik Patel is only 26, and the others are in their 30s. They can still reinvent themselves with ambition and scale.


Also read: Shehla Rashid quits politics, former IAS officer Shah Faesal could be next


Views are personal.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. The PARDON SEEKING TO BRITISH GANG have exhibited their real colours through comments.

    This write-up deserves threadbare
    discussions which the writer can take-up
    to save the country from clutches of ultra right jingoists whose only idea is to handover all the wealth to few families.

  2. The article is a sheer absurd. The opinion is not only biased but also clearly implies that people like the writer himself has given to the majoritarianism. It also smells of the envy and the writer’s own personal failure to make a mark for himself. I usually follow The Print and came across such a wasteful article. I wish The Print should heavily support young people who are trying their best and voices reach millions of people and help them guide through their wisdom.

  3. The anti nationals or unpatriotic towards their country can never thrive at any cost if you people opposition which are favoured by China Pakistan may help them to grow but the mass people of India have denied their theories.
    In this condition the leaders the article have mentioned useless and worthless the person in any field can only achieve their target for public sympathy and recognition if the work for the country but in the case of these people they are working against the country and their friendly to the enemy country of India so they can never thrive on this pious soil

  4. Why all of them not successful because they are guilty. They never thought about the people problems. They raise issues without solution. They don’t have knowledge to guide nation. They are not the owner of this house they want to stay as tenent.

  5. Each of these leaders, have left India with a perception that they belong to the Tukde Tukde gang. Each of them has wasted years at JNU, not studying, but becoming a menace to normal public life. They have wasted the opportunity of being an addition to the India story completely.

    They use caste, religion as divisive means for political gains is apparent, such people, having a communist ideology would be just another horror for Indua.

    I wont accept them as leaders, they are heroes for Lutyens, that’s all that is to them.

  6. It is very disappointing to read this writing. First 3 out of 5 mentioned are caste based leaders their reach is limited to their caste. Rest are limited to covering their so called leftist views under Muslim religion. You will understand their expressed views only Hindubashing these two never expressed wrong doing happening in Muslim religion. So in totality Mr. Shivam Vij hippocratic writing who propagates CASTE AND RELIGION Based politics , not secular politics which he preaches day in day out

  7. Kanhaiya, Jignesh, Shela Rashid, Umar Khalid et al have absolutely nothing to offer except… Agitation. And that is what the author keeps harping on… They should agitate for this, they should agitate for that. I guess electorate is more interested in solution to problems rather than agitation. Modi provides opportunity for solving problems, these people don’t. A very important reason why they don’t find takers for their “agitation” politics. Besides of course the fact that they have achieved absolutely nothing so far worry in electoral politics or in their personal lives. What had Kanhaiya achieved… My personal achievements are better than this idiot. Hardik Patel asks for reservation in jobs… Why didn’t any journalist ask him as to how many national level entrance exams he had appeared for??.. all these people have nothing solid to offer. The solution oriented electorate seeks only those who offer some solution to their problems albeit with a bit delay….

  8. Hello. We are the people of india. We love india. Many lier politicians who even don’t deserved a good person but they are continuously rulling indians,we have not a single question to ask them, again and again we vote for them. If any one want to do something may this will be right ya wrong but we criticise them. We have no courage to do same thing because we are frightened to do anything. Finally today,’medias are very dangerous to us and for our country

  9. Why media wants to trigger gun keeping on such media made glorified shoulders?
    Simply vomiting heatrad n always talks against , can’t see any good in anything. Kanhaiya has lot of work to do in his own state, first for the poor, though they are all intelligent . The environment there should be such that many industries can come up n provide employment to the youth ,rather than simply trying to impress people with vocabulary

  10. Most of the uppercaste people will reject your opinion that they have any leadership quality because of their anti Modi, anti RSS views. On the other hand lower Caste people reject them considering their classical brahminical liberal ideology.

    • Brahmins hate them, Shudras hate them. All Varnas hate them too ….?
      Anything beyond caste?
      Lutyens divide & rule India policy sure has created samples for their own surveys.

  11. People of India are not fools, these leaders are product of media, they have no base. People will never support such leaders who want to break India.

  12. Firstly The Print should change its Mind Set, people of India has voted BJP to power if you have any hatred don’t enforce on the people. The so called jockers whom you have glorified are working against India. They all will Vanish for their wrong doings. People are aware of what these jockers whom you have glorified are doing. Don’t waste you’re time and give unbiased opinion. Every day you publish unworthy and ugly news of India which totally BIASED.

  13. The article misses the biggest point that all of the above people mentioned above are Delhi based media created leaders with not much connect on the ground .In politics if you are not from a political family it will take atleast a decade or two for you to establish connect so all these people have to work for atleast another 10 years to create any kind of mark

  14. Vision less blots on Indian face, irresponsible youths who use caste and religion to rise to quick cheap fame , parasites of tax-payers’ money and they are being glorified!

  15. Anti-national is just a tag given by authoritarian govt which is in power. They and their followers never will accept dissent but Its amusing to know despite of being hurdled by police and rightist leaders and even Modia , Kanhaiya came out to be a popular promising orator and who knows turns out to be a good leader . And if time brings people down it also pushes them up and he will have good time and fame in coming years . His chances of being influencial in indian politics are quite hiqh due to being relatable to indian youth which is aspirational and want a change in the system . As it happens the more you defame someone , he tends to get popular and he is an example . I being from a small town in Himachal Pradesh too relate to him on some issues. I personally think he is bound to be a grat leader in future. People will need a change after some years and this government is doing so much good to be changed very soon.

  16. Please do not encourage them , the sloganeering is enough to understand. Even you are not the part of spelling the same but you are part of the same mob who were praising Afzal Guru.. The Print , leave such kind of matters.

  17. They are young and have some fuxed ideas this they hiwl about narratives discourses freedom of yapping etc . They are not fading away . Because obstinacy fies not fade. They are just lying low

  18. !! Asatyam Shivam Sadaa Sandesham !!

    Below headline is more apt and in urgent need for “Preacher-in-Chief for FREE” of ThePrint.
    “How Shivam We…zzzzzz can still find his way.”

    • !! Asatyam Shivam Sadaa Sandesham !!

      For the second time, Shivam We…zzzzzz is seriously implementing my comment! Continous 2nd article without mentioning Modi. Must be very difficult and painful. Isn’t it We…zzzzzz?

  19. Appears to be talking too much about all of them.
    Dissent is often too attractive, it is illusive too – it pulls crowd and makes heros. But to sustain in public life one has to have a focussed mission and pointed goal. A clear sense of commitment and solid conviction to the cause. They don’t have these.
    Time often fails a person – this is called destiny. A person is not able to see and identify his role when time knocks his door – this is not being able to visualize his good Omen calling!
    Anna’s movement had great potential – potential of being a revolution and changing the way the country was governed. It just ended up merely giving a Delhi’s Chief Minister!
    Just recollect the entire Congress leadership going to airport for Ramdeo Baba – fearful and frightened! And just imazine – what would have happened if the Baba allowed himself to be arrested instead of escaping Ramlila grounds! It would have perhaps change the course of Indian polity.
    Once upon a time, Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh and Kanshiram had the same dissent but had their mission and vision too – they could bring out certain changes in their societies in their times. Looking back today, we might have too many reservations about them, but that is a different story altogether.
    Chandrashekhar, Mohan Dharia and Krishnakant could effect and influence Congress to great lengths and extents – they could also took the issues and people head on.
    It is not always important to fight and win elections urgently and become a lawmaker. There are too many of them and being merely one of them does not make any sense expect for the person climbing the same ladder.
    If at all one has the fire within, it will ignite further and will come out to warm others too! Otherwise it would just fizzle out for nothing!

  20. Kanahya is still very popular among the masses. He should rise to the occasion & use his talents to fill a vacuum in opposition ranks to check the mighty rulers.

  21. To be a true leader requires persistence, patience, ability to network and influence. These are more important than money which is just a by-product and follows leadership. It is similar to an entrepreneur able to convince investors and consumers alike. This is where these fly-by-night have failed.

  22. Please dont encourage such anti nationals as heroes and encourage them.The so called middle aged students have still not finished their studies where doctors finish even their post graduation by this time.These people are just enjoying tbeir life on tax payers money .Dont peddle shuch nonsensical narratives

  23. All these five people are nine-day wonders, storms in the tea cup. It is one thing to be a loudmouth student leader and another thing to become a political leader. They just don’t have it in them. Anyway, well established political parties would not want any upstarts within their ranks. There are different ways of saying NO to them. Congress did just that.

  24. Why should the Congress look like an ossified, embalmed dinosaur, put away in a warehouse ? Why does it – so bereft of charismatic leaders beyond its dynastic gene pool – not welcome these young people, create pathways for them to rise in electoral politics ? All of them may not be CM material – only Shri Arvind Kejriwal is PM material – but they could enliven its politics, including on the street, at a time when it has shrunk to Twitter. To be fair to these brave young people, creating an organisation is not easy, it requires a lot of money, apart from anything else.

    • None of the so-called opposition parties would want some ‘upstart’ Young Turks to upset their dynastic fiefdom however ossified they may be.
      Unfortunately we Indians don’t encourage individualism however brilliant it may be. We are still enamoured of tribal or clannish affiliations, be it in politics or any other field of endeavour.
      Arguably Arvind Kejriwal proved an exception because he fought the battle in an urban setting that is, cosmopolitan in nature, and therefore community allegiance is relatively weak. His media coverage reached the right audience.
      These “brave young people” may be the future but we Indians are driving ahead by looking at the rear view mirror. It would will therefore be very difficult for these young leaders to carve out a political space, especially without an organisation to back them. They may have been ‘darlings of the media’ for a while for their novelty value but they could not reach the right people at the right time.

    • The article is a sheer absurd. The opinion is not only biased but also clearly implies that people like the writer himself has given to the majoritarianism. It also smells of the envy and the writer’s own personal failure to make a mark for himself. I usually follow The Print and came across such a wasteful article. I wish The Print should heavily support young people who are trying their best and voices reach millions of people and help them guide through their wisdom.

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